BARINGO COUNTY, KENYA – Nasaro Kiriambu, 55, cuddles her two-year-old grandson, Fabian, in a small white tent at Eldume camp in Baringo County, in western Kenya. Kiriambu arrived at the camp in March, along with her own six children, after her village was attacked by a neighboring community on a revenge mission. Nine were killed, including her daughter-in-law, the boy’s mother.
Kiriambu says her daughter-in-law died at the hands of attackers from the neighboring Pokot tribe, who were armed with machetes, guns, clubs and spears.
She tries to soothe the toddler. “[He] was with his mother when she was attacked and killed. He, too, was hit and slightly wounded in the head,” she says.
“He has nightmares – gets startled out of sleep and screams. The sight of any strange man makes him hide his face. I think it affected him.”
This is the third time Kiriambu and others from Mukutani have fled to Eldume camp. Now they vow not to return to their homeland, unless the government assures them of absolute peace.
The conflict involves three tribes – the Pokot, Tugen and Ilchamus. Kiriambu’s family belongs to the latter. It began in 2005, when a former Pokot military officer was murdered while traveling through neighboring Tugen tribe land with his children. In revenge, the Pokots launched a series of attacks on the Tugen, killing people, stealing livestock and vandalizing property. Since then, there have been frequent retaliatory attacks between the Pokot and Tugen, eventually drawing the neighboring Ilchamus into the conflict.
The attack that claimed Kiriambu’s daughter-in-law was a revenge mission by the Pokot after two Pokot women were shot and killed while they were collecting charity cash transfers from the government. The murders took place near Kiriambu’s village, but locals claim they were not involved.
Revenge may be the immediate motivation, but camp residents say the conflict stems from competition for natural resources and cattle, which are stolen in large numbers during attacks.
Eldume is not an easy place to stay. The tents are hot during the day and cold at night. Some are torn and leak when it rains.
Sheila Pugo, who is in her early 20s, says life at the camp is tough, especially for a breastfeeding mother like her. “I do not have access to enough food here – we only get maize and beans with a little oil from the Kenyan Red Cross. I no longer have milk to breastfeed my baby; the hot and cold temperatures make our babies develop flu.”
The lack of adequate sanitation at the camp is also a worry for mothers and their children. “We only have one mobile toilet, which is almost full and very dirty. We do not have enough water to wash the toilet and as women, we do not have privacy to change our clothes or even sanitary towels. Getting the sanitary towels is not easy; we have no money and so many of us use rags,” says Caroline Nareiyo, a mother of five from Mukutani village in Baringo. She has been living at Eldume since March.
In poor weather, the camp’s residents have nowhere to cook, “When it rains we just have to sleep hungry, the firewood and cooking places get wet,” Nareiyo says.
The conflict has also affected access to education for girls in the region.
Joel Kiptui, the head teacher at Arabal Primary School, which is based in Mukutani village, says his school has lost many female pupils, one of whom is now married.
“Many of my pupils … have disappeared without a trace,” he says. “Like in the previous conflicts, soon we see will many cases of early pregnancy and marriage.”
Kiptui’s school had registered 20 pupils for the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) before the attack. He now cannot tell how many will manage to sit the exam.
“When we were interrupted, all of them were in school, but they ran for safety,” he says. “Many are in the camps, while others’ locations [are] not exactly known.”
There is hope for a few: Other schools in the region have accepted some of the displaced children, and Kiptui says they are doing well.
Wilson Saidimu, the assistant chief of Mukutani ward, who lost his pregnant wife and a four-year-old child in the attack, is staying at the camp with the rest of his family.
He says the camp consists of 677 households, mostly made up of women and children. Many families have not yet received their own tents, so those who have shelter are forced to share.
The Kenyan government recently designated 19 areas of Baringo County, including Mukutani, as disturbed and dangerous. The designation discourages visitors and well-wishers who might be able to help those affected.
The police and army have been sent to the region to try to restore peace. But locals feel that the designation shows the authorities are not ready to help them. They believe the government has the means to end the conflict definitively, but chooses not to.
News Deeply contacted Baringo County’s commissioner and regional coordinator for comment, but they did not respond to enquiries.
For his part, Saidimu, the assistant chief, is appealing to the government to disarm the bandits so people can return home and start their lives afresh.
Kiriambu is skeptical that her family will be able to do so. “We have never lived in peace since 2005,” Kiriambu says. “Whenever it looks like it is going back to normalcy, that is when conflicts erupt again and we are left homeless [with] property destroyed and livestock stolen.
“We are afraid of going back to our homes.”