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The siege of Tiaty - When the state strikes back

 Military officers at Kapau in Tiaty, Baringo county. [Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

On January 17, 2021, the deputy head of operations at the GSU Emadau Tebakol fell to a bandit’s bullet. The rampage that had been reported in Kapedo and the larger Tiaty had hit rock bottom. 

The government immediately scaled up operations in the area, to weed out suspected bandits; bandits who have constantly instilled fear among the locals, stealing livestock, and killing both civilians and security officers.

There has been active security operation in the area since, and Tiaty is now some kind of a ground zero. Access is denied to persons considered irrelevant to the operations. Several tight police roadblocks are erected in all routes heading to the region.

Journalists would only depend on information from the government to know the goings-on there.

After four months, of incessant cries of a grueling humanitarian situation in the area, we decided to take a chance and access Tiaty, becoming the first media crew to have a first-hand feel of what has become of the area, months into the operation.

But as expected, this was not a mean fete. No sooner had we hit the road past Marigat towards Chemolingot, than our efforts were thwarted by this police roadblock, right before Loruk. We were asked to turn back. We identified ourselves; even showing our staff badges, but were turned away. This made it even clearer that journalists were unwanted here. What is it that needed to be kept away from public scrutiny?

While negotiating with the police, we witnessed as people from either side of the barricade were stopped from moving, some of them heading to nearby shopping centres to purchase essential products. It has been reported that even humanitarian aid, including food stamps, has previously been barred from Tiaty.

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Bullet cartridges in Tiaty, Baringo County, during an operation to flash out bandits. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Dejected, we turned back. Luckily for us, we were aware of a different route, although more dangerous. A journey that would have taken three and half hours, would now take us more than six hours through this rocky-filled, bushy, and abandoned new route.

This is a clear picture of what access in and out of the region looks like at the moment. We took the road less travelled: rough, dangerous, and one that would require a powerful vehicle. 

At Chemolingot centre, the headquarters of Tiaty, the grim reality of an intense security operation hits you. The town is now just but a skeleton of its former self as shops, eateries, and other small businesses are shut. The reason for this shutdown is that Marigat, where most of the businesses get their stock from, is now inaccessible.

Chemolingot is the centre from which six people were abducted from a restaurant cum bar early this year, at the onset of the police operation. The six, who included an IEBC official, a TSC staff, and a medical student, were later found dead in Arabal. The government has denied responsibility of the abductions. There have been no arrests yet, in relation to the murders.

Because of the abductions, this area is now soaked up in terror. So much so, that no one is willing to openly and freely speak to media.

Several kilometres from Chemolingot and into the depth of Tiaty, and in the company of a local who preferred to remain unidentified, we hoped to find the gun trotting warriors and engage with them. But where previously the gunmen would be spotted, now only had goats and sheep as the only sign of life. 

Either the operation has sent them far into the bushes, or they've temporarily dropped their guns and hiding in plain sight. 

An armed Pokot youth at Ameyan village in Tiaty, Baringo county. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The unguarded goats we earlier ran into now seem lucky to be alive, as we come by cow carcasses splattered across the bushes. Everything here seems to be losing life…

Since the operation began in January, there has been relative peace in the region, save for the period of about 20 days when the government temporarily stopped the operation to give room for dialogue as requested by local leaders.

This window for dialogue, saw several cattle rustling raids, prompting security agencies to go back to Tiaty, casting the operation net into areas of Laikipia and Turkana counties. So far, the gun and uniform belonging to slain GSU officer Emadau Tebakol have been recovered, and the killer identified.

Abandoned homes dot the route from Chemolingot through Chesitet, Ameyan and into Kapedo. At Kapedo centre, food aid from well-wishers as the 88 kilometre road through Ameyan to Marigat where they shop is infested with bandits.

A police roadblock is at a bridge right at the entrance of the village with several camps for security agencies within the vicinity. 

The route from Loruk to Chemolingot has a minimum of three police roadblocks, each manned by at least 10 officers, drawn from the RDU and the GSU.

Rift valley regional commissioner George Natembeya says that on the downside, this area has illegal firearms equivalent to the number of households. According to the 2019 cencus, Tiaty has a total of 12,153 households, to mean that this is the number of guns in the wrong hands here.

In the midst of this whole operation, the group at a crossroads, are the professionals who have now become a target of both the police and the criminals.

For decades, Tiaty region has known no peace. Approximately 21 security operations have been conducted here, the persistent volatility and insecurity is possibly calling for a change of tack, including a deliberate attempt at critical development if the vice is to end and sustainable peace achieved in troubled Tiaty. 

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