, MARSABIT, Kenya, May 30 – They brave through the empty, lonely and insecure all-weather Marsabit roads to attend to their daily businesses.
In this town in upper Eastern Kenya, residents can only walk in groups or hire Administration Police officers to escort them to their places of work.
Instead of herding animals with the traditional shepherd’s staff, herders in the North Eastern District graze their animals carrying guns and swords!
Indeed, this is the daily life in Marsabit.
Bordering Ethiopia to the north, Marsabit County comprises four main tribes; the Boranas, Rendille, Gabbras and the Burjis. But they also neighbor Turkanas and Samburus.
Their warrior-like culture is traditionally core in these communities which believe cattle-rustling is a way of proving the strength of youthful men to defend their communities.
But they are all concerned that the culture of moranism has evolved into an evil practice which is not just targeting at stealing livestock but also killing of people backed by revenge attacks among the communities.
A scramble for resources and lack of employment are also some of the reasons said to be behind the attacks usually carried out by youthful tribesmen.
After driving for about four kilometres around the villages of Marsabit, Capital FM News finally spots two people walking along an almost lifeless stretch, bordered by bushes on either side.
Salesa Adano is pushing a bicycle in the escort of Galgalo Liban who is an Administration Police officer.
Adano explains to us that he gets to work late since he cannot leave his house without escort, “I am a carpenter. There is a killer who was seen on this route yesterday that is why I have asked the officer to escort me to work. His work is to escort people to and from town every day.”
Carrying his gun on his shoulder, Liban explains that many people have been killed along the 10 kilometre stretch by gangs that hide in bushes and attack people walking on the frightening route.
“People are afraid to walk alone. They are killed every day. No investigations are done. We have to use a longer route and use many hours to get to town. They hide in bushes, if there is no security officer nearby they just shoot people walking on the road and vanish in the bushes. There are no footprints to follow,” Liban explains.
Due to lack of public transport, residents have to take risks and walk for more than 15 kilometres to get to Marsabit town.
A group of 11 women pass by. Ali Diid Boru, our interpreter and a presenter at the local community radio station Sifa FM, explains that the women are going to the market.
“This is even very dangerous for you. These people can just emerge out of the bush even now and shoot you with arrows. The women walk in big groups as a way of protecting themselves from the attackers,” Boru explains.
The scenario is that of terror and uncertainty exacerbated by the gloomy weather.
After another kilometer, there is some change. There are more people on the road, with some herding their animals.
But what strikes out most is that herders are armed with guns and swords strapped around their waists. They are also dressed in Administration Police uniforms.
Marsabit is not an area of easy intrusion. Residents are suspicious and most times, our interpreter has to explain to them what we were doing before they agree to talk to us.
It is difficult to even understand what they are saying since most of them can hardly communicate in Kiswahili or English.
Tura Galgalo is one of the APs who is a herdsman. He recalls tough times when he has to fight with attackers to protect his animals.
“They killed one of my animals on the spot, while the other one died moments later. I sleep with the gun and I wake up with the gun,” he says.
The complexity of cattle rustling in Marsabit is such a dilemma that besides stealing animals for cultural reasons, security of human life has also come under serious threat.
But the problem is far from being resolved. One concern by the residents is that police do not carry out investigations. No arrests are ever made.
Galgalo says cattle rustling cannot stop if the people who steal animals are not punished.
“It is hard to resolve this problem. After animals are stolen, we can get them in manyattas, but we do not get the rustlers,” he asserts.
One wish for Galgalo and other herders in Marsabit is that one day, peace will prevail where animals will not be guarded with a gun, but a simple stick as should be the norm.
We finally arrive in one of the manyattas in Marsabit, It is called Manyatta Badasa. There is a wedding party and we are invited to merry with the community. But because of the hard life insecurity has exposed members of Manyatta Badasa to, they easily narrate their moving stories of attacks and loss of their loved ones in inhuman and barbaric acts, that sometimes are hard to comprehend.
Security is like a thorn into their flesh. Almost everyone has a story to tell, either as a survivor or relative of a victim who died as a result of tribal antagonism along the dark paths leading to and from Marsabit town.
Others bear permanent marks of injuries that remind them of the lucky day when they cheated death in the hands of criminals.
Nura Kia bears wrinkles of sadness and despair on his face. He regrets he cannot farm on his huge piece of land, “We have a big farms, but we cannot plant anything because anytime, there will be an attack and we have to move away with our families and animals.”
He is also unhappy that insecurity has hampered children’s education.
“When children are in school, and then they hear livestock has been raided, rustlers have killed someone, even if they are sitting for a national exam, they run away. There is a lot of tension in school. It is even difficult to get teachers. No teacher wants to teach in an insecure area,” he explains.
Men are the most vulnerable probably supported by the widespread belief among the communities in Marsabit that women are like ‘flowers or children’. For that reason, rarely are women prey of tribal hatred in the region. But they still have to bear the brunt of taking care of their families upon the loss of their male relatives.
Aadale Jattani Guyo lost her husband to the thugs who also took away all their animals. She has now to take care of their eight children.
“My husband left in the morning with our animals; in the evening police brought his body to me. They told me the animals were taken away,” she sadly recounts.
Jirm Dida Barago and Buke Godana both lost their brothers and their animals in similar circumstances.
“Just last month, I lost my brother… the criminals shot him when he was herding his animals. The police just took his body to the mortuary. They did not investigate or try to follow up on the killers of my brother,” Barago sadly remembers.
The stories of such losses are numerous and can go on and on. But all the people of Marsabit are asking the government is to restore peace among the warring communities. They want the police to investigate and arrest cattle rustlers.
As far as they are concerned, failure by police to investigate cattle rustling is what is encouraging the practice that is now targeting at even killing innocent people.
Efforts to get comments from the police were frustrated despite promises that they would grant Capital FM News an interview to react to the accusations.
The cases of cattle rustling will not end until the government of Kenya equips the police, the police do their work and the residents refrain from negative ethnicity.
For now, this remains a dream, if urgent and immediate measures are not taken up.