, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 11 – It is a journey we navigated cautiously, not knowing what we would come across while in East Pokot, Baringo County.
It is the place where tens of armed officers were killed in an ambush by bandits, specifically the Kapedo area in 2015.
But even as we head there, we can’t stop from thinking we had missed our way.
It is a region that has been described as having more guns than spoons in the households.
But the road we have used from Kabarnet Town to the area is much better than some within East Africa’s largest city, Nairobi.
It is a well-tarmacked road with visible markings and no signs of a single pothole.
It snakes through an expansive region giving birth to small towns along the way and institutions of learning.
The Capital FM crew’s first stop is at the office of Deputy County Commissioner Yusuf Bori in Chemulingot to get a brief of the area’s security before proceeding on a fact-finding mission.
As if aware of what was going through our minds, he sought to assure us that the region was safe and largely a victim of ‘bad’ publicity.
Their major undoing is cattle rustling, a menace that has claimed tens of lives within and in neighbouring regions.
“In East Pokot, there is no single case of murder or other types of crime. It is only cattle rustling which doesn’t happen here (Chemlingot) but down there in the mountains,” he said. “You are free to quote me; this is the safest county in the country.”
– Water Projects –
It is at Silangwa Village where a new water project has brought hope to more than 400 households, who have been walking for more than 20 kilometres to get water.
At times, it has led to chaos among the members of the community fighting over the scarce commodity.
But with the new multi-million shillings project, financed by the National Government and JICA, their story is slowly changing.
The solar panel powered borehole according to the locals will also be used for small-scale irrigation, as they look for other means of living besides livestock keeping.
Cheptanu Kwongole is a beneficiary of the programme.
“Pogh kukugh lapai ombo soppon (water means everything for us),” Kwongole says in her dialect.
Not the failure to speak Swahili or English would stop her from expressing her joy over the water project that is located right inside her land.
“I am happy that I will now have enough water for my use and for the livestock,” she asserted.
The area Chief John Kamama says he is optimistic that with the water project, the area is going to be more stable.
“I believe there will be no chaos over water anymore in this area while the time they used to fetch water can be used in other productive activities,” Kamama said.
About 70 boreholes equipped with appropriate pumping facilities, construction of storage tanks and water pipelines and cattle troughs have been constructed in the entire county.
Areas that have largely benefited from the project include Baringo Central, Baringo North, Marigat and East Pokot sub-counties.
The boreholes were drilled through the Baringo Rural Water supply project implemented by the National Government with support from JICA aiming at improving access to clean, safe and portable water to residents within the villages.
The Sh900 million projects kicked off in 2014.
Of the 70 boreholes, 27 are powered by solar panels.
– Road Network –
The main road to Chemlingot, East Pokot, is completely tarmacked leading to easy access to the town.
But maybe to act as a reminder of the past, just for now, a section of the road is still under construction.
It is a bridge that will connect Nginyang village and East Pokot Sub County and down the seasonal River Nginyang is wild after a heavy downfall in the hills.
Only strong vehicles can cross the river while a few locals are cashing in, at least until the bridge is fully constructed.
Elijah Cosute, 22, is among the youths helping people to cross by carrying them on his back.
On this day, he is busy, and has made a few thousands though it is in the morning hours.
“When the water levels are high, we charge Sh100 per head,” he tells Capital FM News, but this doesn’t make him immune.
It is a risky affair.
One of his colleague’s body is still missing after he was swept away by flash floods at the same spot.
“It is a dangerous place but once the bridge is fully constructed, it will be no more. It is the best gift to people of either sides as well as visitors like you,” he said.
“We have lost many lives here. You just need to miss your step and you will be gone.”
It is a distance of less than 50 metres.
“Another friend was swept away while crossing using his motorbike,” 21 years old Suleiman Zheretei said.
The two know very well that their business will be no more in a few weeks but they are happy with the progress.
“We are going to do other jobs. The good thing is that our people will be safe,” Zheretei asserted.
– Institutions of Learning –
At the heart of East Pokot is Chemlingot boarding primary school, which has more than 700 students.
A majority of the pupils went there “looking for food” according to the school but they end up learning.
Despite the area facing a myriad of challenges resulting from decades of marginalization and harsh weather conditions, it is evident that Pokot land is rising.