The ‘wild, ungovernable’ frontiers of Kapedo

Only there is no such thing as ungovernable; leaders allow the killings and plunder to continue because it serves their interests

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By Tioko Ekiru Emmanuel

The scale of deadly attacks reported from Kapedo village, Turkana East every year is shocking, horrible and terrible. From time to time, Kapedo has been in the headlines as the subject of national platform. The main intention of the ruthless bandits patrolling this region is to convert it into a “no man’s land,” and, “a major hotspot of violence.”

The merciless killing of school going children among other civilians at Ameyan, Baringo County, is not something new in these remote, ungoverned jungles. It demonstrates seemingly unstable age we live in today.

In November 2014, twenty-one police officers were murdered by suspected bandits hailing from the neighbouring county. In November 2012, a similar massacre of 42 police officers was carried out in Suguta Valley.

But, perhaps what is probably viewed as the most deadly attack on police forces in  Kenya’s history is but a drop in the ocean compared to the daily suffering and killing of the population residing in these regions.

Indisputably, the persistent and changing level of armed violence in these nomadic regions is attributable to the political factors inherited from both pre-colonial era and advent of multiparty clamour in Kenya.

An anatomy of rapid violence is linked to more general shifts in the political landscape that are part of Kenya’s troubled nation-building process. The case to justify this  is evidently founded in the early 1990s clashes which rocked many parts of Rift valley with ethnic population, Maasai and Kipsigis warriors  teaming up  to raid neighbouring Kikuyu, Luhya, Kamba and other farming communities in rural areas like Molo and the Naivasha hinterland.

These clashes subsequently stretched to Laikipia, where Samburu and Pokot retaliated by attacking Kikuyu who had settled there as small-scale farmers as a result of post-independence land reforms.

Further, in January 1998, the clashes were experienced in Ol Moran, a small town in Laikipia when Pokot and Samburu warriors raided Kikuyu farmers leading to the killing of two people and a burning down of some houses.

The Kikuyu planned a counter-attack on pastoralist settlements but were ambushed by well-armed Pokot and Turkana warriors who massacred a large number of Kikuyu youth.

The report of the Judicial Commission appointed to inquire into tribal clashes in the country (Akiwumi Report) establishes that the conflicts between these communities were instigated by ‘unsavoury and inflammatory statements by politicians.

These statements flowing out of politicos and top government functionaries in modern Kenya are clear sources of rivalry among the warring communities.

President Kenyatta addresses security officers deployed to Kapedo.

Researchers have emphasised the changing nature of cattle rustling. Attempts to explain this have been pointed particularly to the increased proliferation of sophisticated automatic rifles such as the AK-47. A number of authors working with the available data from the 1990s add to this another dynamics: the professionalised marketing of stolen animals.

While in previous decades the stolen livestock was redistributed or used to pay bride prices, rustling has more recently turned into a form of organised crime. This entails the commercialisation of stolen animals, and includes actors from outside the pastoralism system.

Dylan Hendrickson and colleagues describe this as a shift from ‘redistributive raiding to ‘predatory raiding’. On the other hand, raids have been interpreted as an ideal driven by male for their own prestige.

In his immortal words, Lemukol Ng’asike wrote one of the electrifying masterpieces to epitomise the bloodbath in the so called Northern Frontiers Districts as “northern Kenya war economy” – which is a three- levelled game.

He described aptly banditry as “a sophisticated chain of political profiteers, a well-connected pool of business-people dealing in livestock business, and, at the bottom of it, a mass of gun-wielding foot soldiers.”

Clemens Greiner, a researcher at the Department of Cultural and social Anthropology, university of Cologne, Germany in his compelling work, ‘Guns, Land and votes: Cattle Rustling and the politics of Boundary(Re)making in Northern Kenya’ has put a strong case study to show the nexus between politics and violence.

He asserts that livestock raiding among northern Kenya’s pastoralists has changed profoundly in the last decades.

Further, he effectively point out that livestock raiding is a game that has taken  new dynamics  of modern weaponry and extreme violence angle enmeshed in politicised claims over administrative boundaries, struggle for exclusive access to land and attempts to establish or safeguard an ethnically homogeneous electoral base. As such, conflicts have been branded as part of Kenya’s troubled politics of decentralisation.

Crimes against humanity

Cattle rustling, raids, theft, robbery, clashes, terrorism are all forms of conflict, deviant behaviour traits and patterns that do not conform to societal norms. Due to their persistent nature, these forms of violence need to be elevated to the status of ‘crimes against humanity’.

Moreover, the acts of violence involve brutal and reckless murder, ‘ethnic cleansing’, criminal marketing chains and highway banditry, as well as ordinary petty theft; thus it is commonly lumped together and labelled as ‘cattle rustling’ or ‘cattle raiding’. Needless to say, pastoralism in East African drylands is undergoing rapid transformation. In this processes, issues of territoriality emerge as main arenas of contestation.

The breakdown of traditional governance structures has led to power vacuum that is increasingly filled by political leaders and other power brokers, who grasp the opportunity to renegotiate boundaries and access to land.

These leaders have realised that on the national platform level ethnic mobilisation has played a major role in political struggles and they carry these dynamics even into remotest pastoralist areas, where the struggle for land is progressively ethicised.

Instructively, most authors who emphasise ecological rather than cultural factors as root causes of livestock theft present one of two strands.

One strand holds that pastoralist areas are characterised by scarcity of pasture and water and that the struggle for temporary access to these resources leads to conflict.

The other, root in non-equilibrium ecosystems approaches, highlights the necessity of recuperation of livestock numbers after drought-or disease-included losses as motivation for raiding.

From a simple inquiry, livestock raiding has emerged as a specific form of violent regulation: a well-adapted, crafted, motivated, engineered, dangerous, and powerful political weapon to hoodwink and blindfold the pastoralists who are regarded to be highly illiterate.

To illustrate this best, in these conflicts prone-zones, it is young men who do not necessary follow political aims, but are likely to be motivated by cultural and economic factors took part in the war.

Raiding from other aspect has been portrayed as a maladaptive cultural institution in which the value of cattle is placed above that of human beings.

A clear hint of insecurity dimension escalating between Pokot and Turkana is about the ownership of Kapedo Village, which has remained the main centre of contestation and endless disputes of ages. On top of it there is mass killings and large-scale displacements almost on daily basis.

Children have become homeless and orphans in large numbers, there are graves are everywhere, fear is the order of the day and the region mostly has become a formidable and battle hardened ethnic war machine.

Who will redeem Kapedo from these hungry wolves called bandits?

In the last decade, the Pokot have conquered territory that stretches far into former Turkana territory and they have turned Kapedo into their battle field and virtual Turkana bridgehead, which according to them it has to be eliminated completely.

Besides, the boundary dispute, a new frontier of contestation has emerged to fuel the going conflict along the Pokot-Turkana border. The successful oil-prospecting missions and a proposed geothermal power plant have increased the appetite of ownership from both sides. This matter that is yet to find a suitable remedy.

Kenya’s insecurity in the past has been a big threat to progress and development. The insecurity cases shaping up every day in Turkana, West Pokot, Mandera, Garissa, Lamu, Kwale, Tana-River, Nairobi and Wajir is worrying and disturbing.

As a result, the episode is mutating to be one of the dangerous monsters in the face of human race, leave alone unchecked cancer or HIV and AIDS.

Government response, reaction and preparedness to deal with these backward oriented crimes is lukewarm. Instead, the above mentioned regions have been turned to “slavery, “ungoverned”, and, “punishment zones”.

Unfortunately, oftentimes when a nation feels that it is under siege, especially on matters of security, the government is often swift to suspend fundamental freedoms and liberties in the name of maintaining national security.

At some point, it has to end. The state should stop burying its head on the sand. The preservation of life, welfare and liberties of individuals is its core obligation.

The Pokot-Turkana war is a monster of ages, driven by greedy, ruthless and highly illiterate bandits with one thing on their minds –shot to kill. That is the measure of their excellence.

Conflicts like these have been remarked as part of the Kenya’s troubled nation-building process, right from multiparty advent. They do not require much trouble to end. (

Email: manu.ekiru@gmail.com

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