A month ago, the Government imposed a three-month curfew in Mt Elgon Constituency after sporadic attacks left several people dead and over 50 nursing bullet injuries.
The dusk-to-dawn curfew announced by Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i was aimed at ending the attacks that were giving residents sleepless nights.
Dr Matiang’i also mounted a major operation to wipe out the killer gangs, believed to be remnants of the dreaded Sabaot Land Defence Forces (SLDF).
Investigations by The Standard have revealed that land — and particularly Chepyuk Settlement Scheme — is the main driver of the attacks.
Locals claim over 40 people have been killed in recent attacks but police put the number at less than 10.
The land dispute first erupted in 1971 when fighting broke out among those living in the scheme located in Kopsiro division.
The fighting was between the Sabaot’s sub clan of Ndorobo, who are also known as Mosopisyeek, and the Bok, who were the majority inhabitants of the scheme.
In an interview, Ndorobo elder Jones Kimutai, 80, said the fighting continued up to 1989 when the Government divided the land into three parts.
According to Kimutai, in Phase One, people were allowed to settle but in Phase Two and Three, the Government entered into an agreement with the Norwegian government and planted trees to protect the Mt Elgon water tower.
“The Ndorobo were settled in Phase One but the Bok who had settled in Phase Two and Three were displaced and became landless. Some of them moved to Cheptais to live with their relatives,” Kimutai said.
The Government then decided to resettle the Bok, who were displaced in 1989 in a bid to end the clashes that erupted every electioneering period, with politicians capitalising on the land issue to ascend to power.
“The landless people were to get five acres each. There was no formal way of allocating the land and over 7,000 Bok did not get any land after the Ndorobos took it during Phase Three,” he said.
He added: “The Bok feel the Ndorobos should have remained in Phase One and Two but they also got parcels of land in Phase Three. We got big parcels of land and Bok were left out since we had our kinsmen both in the Provincial Administration and at the political arena.”
But Eric Kiplamai, a Bok elder aged 72, said they missed out when the land was being allocated in Phase One, Two and Three as they “didn’t have their kinsmen in Government to fight for their rights”.
Mr Kiplamai said his clan is demanding back its land, which was snatched and given to the Ndorobo.
“The Government is running away from the truth and recently they imposed a curfew as a way of ending the attacks.
“Let them give us our land and the attacks being experienced in this region will be a thing of the past,” he said.
A retired National Intelligence Service (NIS) officer who sought anonymity also attributed the attacks to wrangles over land.
“What the Bok want is their land that was forcibly taken away from them. They want fair allocation of land since they did not benefit in Phase One, Two and Three,” he said.
The officer said the unfair distribution of the land in 2007 resulted in a conflict that led to the tribal clashes spearheaded by the fallen SLDF leader Wycliffe Matwakei who was a Bok.
The former NIS says further injustice was done against the Bok when another parcel was secured at Kwa Kamau Settlement Scheme in Trans Nzoia.
Again, the Ndorobo were settled there, leaving the Bok disgruntled.
Former area MP John Serut said the exercise was supervised by the then Cheptais Deputy County Commissioner Omar Salat.
“Some residents sold their animals and even gave out bribes in excess of Sh100,000 and at least 13,000 people were registered,” Mr Serut claimed.
Serut said the land that was to be allocated to them was the 100-acre parcel set aside for public utilities by the Government in the Chepyuk Phase Three at Sarya in an operation dubbed “Apewe Land”.
But when those living on the land learnt squatters were to be settled there, they turned violent late last year and launched attacks, leaving several people nursing injuries. Two others were kidnapped and killed inside Mt Elgon Forest.
When we called the Deputy County Commissioner seeking a comment over the allegations, he promised to get back to us after 10 minutes but didn’t.
Besides land, another issue fueling violence in Mt Elgon is the feeling among the Bok that they have been discriminated against by both the national and county government.
Chepyuk Settlement Scheme has two locations; Emia and Chepyuk locations. Both are headed by chiefs who are from the Ndorobo side.
The scheme also has six sub-locations, five of which are headed by assistant chiefs from the Ndorobo clan. The Bok have only one assistant chief in Korong’otuny sub location.
Area ward administrator, Member of County Assembly and a nominated MCA are all Ndorobos. The Bok feel they have no representation at all in the Government.
Contacted, Western Regional Commissioner Anne Ng’etich said the Government was working around-the-clock to resolve the land dispute.
“The local administration in Chepyuk where Bok feel left out will also be reviewed. We are creating new administrative units in the area and Bok will be given first priority”.