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Blood and bullets feed growing appetite for meat

VINCENT ACHUKABy VINCENT ACHUKA
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 NYAMBEGA GISESABy NYAMBEGA GISESA
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Senior Sergeant Peter Kokoon Todokin of the Kenya Defence Forces was one of the country’s finest marksmen. While still in the army, the sniper became the first African to win a gold medal in the prestigious World Long Range Championships in Mexico in 1992.

His last posting was at the Lanet Barracks in Nakuru County before he retired in 2005 to concentrate on mentoring amateur shooters at the Athi River shooting range.

By then, he had also retired from the sharpshooting sport and moved into coaching. It seemed like a perfect way to retire for the man who had brought Kenya a lot of accolades in a sport that was surprisingly unknown.

But after nine years of coaching, the retired soldier decided to take one last stab at the sport with a view to participating in the 2015, World Long Range Championships in Ohio, US.

Then on the night of December 8, 2014 as he was driving from Mochongoi to Loruk in Baringo, his car was flagged down at Arabal by over 30 Tugen men armed with AK-47 rifles.

It had just rained heavily and his car was having difficulty navigating the muddy and rocky road that night. Seated on the co-driver’s seat was his son while his daughter sat in the back.

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The gunmen ordered his daughter out of the car and then opened fire. By the time the crackles from the AK-47s died, Sergeant Todokin and his son’s bodies lay slumped in their seats riddled with bullets. Kenya had lost one of its best marksmen and East Pokot had lost one of its greatest sons.

Now five years after the brutal shooting, the Nation has established that just a week before he was killed, about 1,000 heads of cattle had been stolen from the Tugen at Kapindasum, a small market centre in Baringo County that was mostly deserted because of incessant cattle raids.

MILITARY TRAINING

The Pokot raiders who carried out the raid had months back not only been recruited from trading centres in Tiaty constituency, where they were earning a living by doing odd jobs for a local politician, but had also undergone vigorous military training before being sent for the raid, locals say.

When the Tugen got wind of what had transpired in the weeks leading to the raid, they immediately suspected that Sergeant Todokin had been involved and lay an ambush.

To date, it is not clear whether the retired soldier was involved in planning the raid or training the bandits. But, in hushed tones, residents of Tiaty and Arabal say Sergeant Todokin was heavily involved in providing weapons and training the raiders.

It is these circumstances surrounding his killing that have lifted the lid on the never-ending war among pastoral communities in the Kerio Valley.

On the surface, it looks as though the Pokot, Baringo, Samburu, Turkana, Marakwet, Tugen and Ilchamus, who all live in counties inside or bordering the Kerio Valley, are either fighting for resources or constantly raiding each other for livestock. But behind these ragtag bands of peasant pillagers are savvy businessmen, deep-pocketed warlords and well-trained former soldiers who arm, train and facilitate bandits to take advantage of existing cultural tensions between communities in order to steal livestock.

By taking advantage of the historical marginalisation of pastoral communities, weak strategies by the state in curbing communal conflicts, harsh geographical terrains and competing political interests, unscrupulous individuals have managed to create a situation of permanent insecurity in about a third of the country.

 Yatya, Baringo South. CHEBOITE KIGEN | NATION Yatya, Baringo South. CHEBOITE KIGEN | NATION

In Kainuk, the volatile border where Turkana and West Pokot counties are separated by River Turkwel, the Nation has established that part of the reason the area is insecure is that the Pokot have been made to believe that their border is at Nasihilot, several kilometres into Turkana County. The Turkana, on the other hand, say that their border is at the end of the Kainuk Hills inside West Pokot County. Two months ago, a woman who was fetching water from the Turkwel River was raped, killed and her eyes gouged out by people who the local community says are known but still walk free.

“The Turkana think the Pokot are their natural enemies and the Pokot think the same of Turkana. This is because they have been brainwashed,” says Rev Moses Ekuru, a church leader in Kainuk.

“The government armed communities without thinking of how to deal with the issue of illegal guns. Now, the guns are not being used to protect cattle anymore but to steal,” he says.

Investigations by the Nation reveal that a good number of the stolen livestock ends up in the meat market as demand continues to shoot up year on year. There is also evidence that some of it is exported to the Middle East and South Africa.

This is greatly aided by the fact that the government is yet to set up controls at the port or Jomo Kenyatta International Airport that would require livestock exporters to show the origin of the animals or meat they are exporting.

The Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation says that “every year, Kenyan shipping companies make 50 to 70 per cent rise in live animals exports from the normal cargo holdings to the Middle East during Eid ul-Fitr celebrations.”

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, the total value of marketed livestock and related products grew from Sh125.4 billion in 2016 to Sh146.6 billion last year.   The big question is why the state has been unable to deal with cattle rustling even with evidence available showing that the meat market is fuelling the vice.

UNKNOWN NUMBER

So sad is the situation that the government admits it does not know how many guns are in illegal hands in the north.

“Since independence, guns were issued by subsequent regimes and no proper records were kept. Over time, illegal guns also came in, which has made the situation very complicated. The issue of illegal guns is my number one priority,” Police Inspector-General Hillary Mutyambai says.

“But let nobody lie to you with whatever research they claim to have done that there is this or that number of guns. It is impossible to know how many guns there are in private hands,” he says.

The Geneva-based Small Arms Survey says there are about 750,000 firearms in private hands in Kenya, up from 680,000 in 2016, making Kenya’s cache of guns in civilian hands the largest in East Africa.

Tanzania, whose population is eight million more, comes in a distant second with 427,000 guns in private hands, nearly half what Kenyan civilians have stacked up.

While you are unlikely to see these guns in public in big cities and towns due to strong policing by the State, it is a different ball game in Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo, Samburu, West Pokot and Turkana, where open display of high-calibre weapons continues to be the norm.

The Inter-Governmental Authority for Development’s Centre for Pastoral Areas and Livestock Development (ICPALD) terms these five cattle raids-prone counties “high risk”, the State calls them “operational areas”, while non-governmental organisations call them “marginalised areas”.

According to ICPALD, these counties lose an average of Sh2.1 billion in stolen animals through bandit attacks every year. Likewise, the estimated total cost of displacement associated with cattle rustling is Sh12 billion per year.

Nationally, various studies by ICPALD indicate that the total value of stolen livestock per year is about Sh51 billion while the total cost of displacement is Sh46 billion annually. Since May, police say they have managed to mop up at least 7,000 high-calibre rifles and over 100,000 rounds of ammunition that were in the hands of the Kenya Police Reservists in an effort to restore a semblance of sanity.