Gideon Kibet was only 10 when he took up arms and became a cattle rustler in Kerio Valley.
Kibet who is now 22 says he was driven by the urge to revenge after his family lost its livestock to armed bandits.
He joined a group of young bandits who not only robbed families but also killed at will during raids.
He says he quickly learned to handle an AK-47 and load magazines, and would shoot anyone who dared to cross his path.
Kibet who hails from Endoo location in Chesongoch, Marakwet East, told The Standard that he saw his father’s animals being driven away by bandits, which provoked him to take revenge.
“My father had over 30 head of cattle and goats when armed bandits raided our village. We were lucky to escape alive, but our livestock was not spared,” he narrated.
Following the incident, Kibet joined other youth and they would raid other neighbouring communities for livestock.
His ultimate goal was to bring back what his family had lost.
“It took me a week to learn how to use a gun and was then given one,” said Kibet.
Before any raid, says Kibet, they would watch the herders’ movement with their livestock, especially as they crossed River Kerio.
He says before executing a mission they would divide themselves into three groups. The first group would shoot to scare away the herders.
The second group would be tasked to drive the animals, while the last group would monitor the opposing camp.
Kibet, who has since reformed is now a farmer and a boda boda operator along the Chesongoch-Tot road.
“We used to drink milk directly from the cows because we had no containers,” he told The Standard.
Despite joining raids Kibet says he used to attend school once or twice a week and completed Form Four in 2019.
Kibet is not alone in quitting banditry, Sixty-three other young people have also quit the vice.
“Cattle rustling has been the main source of insecurity in our region. Stealing cattle and goats for years, yet it did not raise our living standards,” he added.
Kibet is one of the beneficiaries of a project implemented by the Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA), aimed at empowering youth and women.
KVDA chairman Mark Chesergon, while distributing over 2,000 grafted mango seedlings to reformed cattle rustlers, said the programme is set to shift focus to another source of income to uplift communities.
Chesergon said a mango processing plant in the area will have enough mango fruits when mass production is achieved.
He said his team, after distributing the seedlings, will do follow-up training on how to raise the seedlings into productive trees.
“We are happy to see our youth in Kerio Valley abandon banditry and adapt farming as an alternative source of income. Mangoes thrive in Kerio Valley due to arable soil,” said Chesergon.
Salim Mwatuji, Marakwet East deputy sub-county commissioner, said since the government began the operation in Kerio Valley, they have recovered a number of firearms through voluntary surrender.
He said they have so far received 23 AK-47s, a G-3, two carabines, and 150 rounds of ammunitions surrendered by locals from Marakwet East a month ago.