Baringo children face uncertain future as banditry cripples learning in schools

A headteacher stands in an empty classroom after pupils flee away over bandit attacks. [Philip Muasya, Standard]

In the sleepy Kagir village, lies a solemn sight, the fresh grave of Joseph Kibet, the late head teacher of Kagir Primary School.

Just a few metres away from the school he devoted his professional life, Kibet's grave stands out adorned with weathering flowers, a testament of the  community's sorrow under the scorching sun.

Once bustling Kagir now stands in eerie silence and abandonment.

The pervasive quietness speaks volumes, echoing the tales of more than 2000 villagers forced to flee their homes due to relentless bandit attacks. With 13 people killed in the past three months, the insecurity is ever-present.

Amidst this grim reality, the education sector suffers greatly, with schools becoming battlegrounds where teachers and students face constant danger.

Richard Chepchomei, a resident of Baringo North, shares the community's anguish: "The situation in our villages is dire."

More than 300 families have been forced to seek refuge in internally displaced persons camps in Moinonin near Loruk and Rormoi. "We have lost people, we have lost property," Chepchomei said.

The insecurity has led to the closure of Kagir, Yatia, Kosile, Ngaratuko, and Kibenot Primary Schools while Tuluk, Rormoi, and Chepkesin Primary Schools are grappling with alarming dropout rates.

Kibet's murder on February 10, 2024, while en route to Kipcherere Secondary School for his child's academic day, underscores the severity of the situation.

School going children board a police vehicle in Kapedo on Monday evening. The learners were being evacuated to safer place after bandits staged an attack. [Joseph Kipsang, Standard]

A post-mortem examination revealed that the teacher succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds. Born in 1972, Kibet went blind in 1978, after being shot by suspected bandits while herding his father's livestock.

The killing sparked outrage among Baringo residents, prompting teachers to lead protests in Kabarnet town, culminating in running battles with the police.

Police lobbed tear gas canisters to disperse the protesting residents, highlighting their frustration over the escalating insecurity.

As several schools remain shut, impacting hundreds of students whose future hangs in the balance, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kidiki has maintained that he will firmly deal with banditry.

Prof Kindiki's warning to bandits appears to fall on deaf ears, going by the unrelenting attacks.

"Survival and safety are constant struggles for the thousands of residents now residing in makeshift camps," said MP Joseph Makilap.

"Close to 10,000 people have abandoned their homes, with children hiding in the bushes and mothers giving birth outdoors. The plight of these displaced families underscores the urgent need for comprehensive action to restore peace and security in Baringo," he said.

Nelson Mandela famously stated, "Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."

However, in Baringo, this powerful weapon is under threat, as those entrusted to deliver education must navigate a dangerous environment where ruthless bandits lurk in the shadows.

"In Bartabwa and Saimo Soi Ward, the situation is dire. Education is severely impacted, but what troubles me most is the future of the displaced children," said Chepchomei.

One of the vandalized classrooms at Kapindasum Primary School in Arabal, Baringo. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

"Where are they headed? We're uncertain about the whereabouts of some. I'm especially concerned about the young girls, who are at risk of early pregnancy and forced dropout. The potential increase in dropout is detrimental to our community," he said.

As the situation worsens and education remains paralyzed, stakeholders in the education sector are urging the government to take decisive action against bandit attacks.

The Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) secretary in Baringo, Joshua Cheptarus highlights the devastating impact of banditry on the education system.

Cheptarus laments over the recent killings of teachers, including the headteacher of Kagir Primary School and a deputy headteacher.

Many other educators face security threats daily which has led to the closure of numerous schools in Baringo South and Baringo North.

"Every teacher lost to banditry leaves behind shattered families and orphaned children. Their dedication to shaping young minds deserves recognition and protection," said Bishop Cheptarus.

He revealed that many teacher’s express concerns about their security.

"Three deputy head teachers have even stated they have been threatened. We urge the government to prioritise the safety of teachers by eradicating banditry and disarming those possessing illegal firearms. Compensation should be provided to the families of teachers who have lost their lives, as their children are now left orphaned," he adds.

Zachary Nyomboi, the Kuppet secretary for Baringo county, expressed concern over the education sector in the region. He underscores the vulnerability of teachers, many of whom are not native to the area and must undertake perilous journeys to reach their schools amidst insecurity.

"Our educators are risking their lives every day, facing threats and violence without any form of compensation or support. The recent targeted attack that claimed the lives of two teachers, including a blind teacher en route to visit his child, highlights the urgent need for enhanced security measures," said Nyomboi.

The impact of insecurity on education is palpable, with schools like Arabal, Kasiela, Yatia, and Sibilo facing daily threats, leading many teachers to contemplate resigning due to safety concerns. Nyomboi said the situation is dire particularly in Mochongoi Ward, where schools struggle to operate amidst chaos.

"We demand immediate action to protect our teachers and schools," he said. 

"Enhanced police presence, safe transportation for teachers, and addressing the root causes of banditry are imperative to ensure the safety of our educators and the future of our children's education," he added.

Nyomboi called for deployment of police to primary and secondary schools and emergency transportation for educators.

However, he said that disarmament of bandits must be prioritized to end insecurity.

"The safety and security of our teachers and students should be paramount. Until that is ensured, education in these areas will remain under threat," he emphasized.

Sammy Chelanga, another Kuppet official, regrets the recent tragedies that have befallen the community.

"We, the teachers, are deeply saddened and angry at the loss of our community's elites. We have witnessed the senseless killings of educators, and most recently, innocent school children," he laments, his voice heavy with emotion.

"As the leadership of the teachers' union, we are gravely concerned and deeply worried about the escalating violence." He added.

Chelanga recounted the pain of burying the headteacher of Kagir, Kibet, on a day that was meant to celebrate the school's academic achievements.

"It is a tragic irony that on the very day we had planned to celebrate the school's success, we instead mourned the loss of a teacher who played a pivotal role in shaping the educational landscape of our community," he said.

Security officials and a team of elders during a crisis meeting held at Liter, Marakwet East, Elgeyo Marakwet County. May 29, 2022. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

He called urgent government intervention to ensure the safety of teachers in these volatile areas.

"We demand assurance from the government regarding the security of teachers in these regions. In the face of insecurity, we as teachers no longer wish to rely solely on others for protection," he said.

"I implore the government to consider arming teachers as a means of self-defense, so that while we wield chalk in one hand, we can hold a gun in the other. Teachers capable of handling firearms should be equipped, to safeguard both their pupils and themselves."

Furthermore, Chelanga called for risk allowances for teachers and all public servants working in bandit-prone areas.

"Risk allowances should not be a privilege, but a basic entitlement for those who put their lives on the line every day to serve their communities," he said.

Kuppet blamed proliferation of banditry on the neglect of the region by the government. The union called for decisive action against insecurity to ensure universal access to education.

"In counties affected by insecurity, such as Tiaty, a significant number of children are not attending school, with only around 30 per cent enrolled. Many remain in villages, while others are scattered in the bushes," Nyomboi said.

"To combat this, the government must implement a comprehensive strategy to ensure all school-age children attend school. This may involve going door-to-door, village-to-village, with the assistance of local chiefs and elders," he added.

"By ensuring universal access to education within five years, we can significantly diminish the presence of banditry in our communities."

To reinforce security operations in Baringo, the government has deployed more GSU officers and armored personnel carriers.

"We have decided that our GSU officers will have a camp in Kosile, so that people can return to their homes," said Baringo County Commissioner Stephen Kutwo.

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