Baringo pupils to remain out of school as bandits stay put

After a four-week holiday, schools are set reopen countrywide for second term beginning today. But this will not be the case for some schools in Baringo County, thanks to the cattle rustling menace. At the once vibrant Ngelecha Primary School, text and exercise book pages and desks are scattered all over the  compound after learning was paralysed in 2012 and villages in the school’s neighbourhood deserted after raiders converted the area a battlefield.

Classrooms have been vandalised and converted into cattle sheds. Herders also long dismantled pupils’ desks and converted them to salt troughs for their cattle. Blackboards  are used as doors for cattle sheds. Other schools which have been closed include Kapindasum, Kasiela, Nasukuro, Chemorongion, Chebinyiny, Arabal, Ramacha, Katilomwo Primary schools and Tuyotich secondary school.

Yatia and Chepkewel Primary schools in Baringo North have been converted into refugee centres and there is fear that learning in these schools will not resume this week. Rugus Primary School has been completely run over by the armed criminals. In Kapindasum and Ngelecha primary schools,classrooms and books are  soiled by cow dug or consumed by hardworking termites.

Schools that are not yet closed are operating partially. Regular armed attacks by Pokot bandits forced more than 20,000 people to flee Arabal, Rugus and Chebinyiny sub-locations with their children. Area leaders led by Baringo County MP Grace Kiptui accused the Government of failing to act, creating a conducive environment for the problem to spread. torched homes Initially, the raids were blamed on competition for pasture, but the scale of attacks has disapproved this since the bandits have taken over all available grazing fields and water points but still strike.

The good news is that officers have been sent to the region to battle the raiders and bring the problem to an end. Some of the officers have pitched camp at Kapindasum Primary School, Kapindasum Dispensary and Katilomwo village, believed to be strongholds of the raiders.

Other areas where Pokot herders have pitched tent include, Ramacha, Raramoru, Losokoni, Ngelecha, Bartuluk, Karau Hills, Sogonin and Chesirimion villages, all in Arabal location. According to Arabal location chief William Koech, more than 8,000 people are in camps after Pokot raiders torched homes, killed the owners and made away with thousands of livestock.

Ironically, a day after the then Acting Inspector General of Police Samuel Arachi toured Baringo and announced the intended security operation, a chief’s house at Katilomwo village was vandalised and roofing materials, household items stolen.

“The residents are fully behind the Government in this exercise, people have suffered enough, however we are asking the Government to ignore people not interested with the eviction,” said Koech who also lost 415 goats to the Pokots in 2013.

A spot check by The Standard established that the herders earmarked for eviction hide their animals in the valleys, away from security helicopters only to return at night to graze and water the cattle at Kuki Gallmann ranch in Laikipia.

Security officers, who cannot be named because they are not authorised to speak to the media, say that several roads leading to the criminals’ hideouts cannot not be accessed by foot and need aerial surveillance, hence complicating the impending operation.

At Kapindasum Primary school, broken pieces of chalks, text books, and exercise books now under the mercy of termites, are the only testimony that learning once took place there. Armed Pokot herders descended on the school early this year, chasing away pupils.

Administrators say more than 2,000 children from more than 10 primary schools and a secondary school in Baringo South are out of school, due to persistent cattle raids.

The schools remain closed and villages deserted. Some of the classes have been converted into temporary homes for the raiders. Vital school records, pupils academic certificates, school registers and audit books are strewn on the floors, torn and covered in dust. In some schools, classrooms have been converted into police houses and kitchens as they prepare to confront the bandits.

Interestingly, in one of the schools atop a white carton containing several exercise books is an old Bible, left open, perhaps by owner on the page with message: “When the people heard the thunder and the loud blast, and when they saw the flashes of lightning and the smoke billowing from the mountain, they stood at a distance, trembling with fear.”

A piece of paper hanging on the wall indicates the school in 2013 had 23,376 text books, 35,064 exercise books and 7,818 pencils. All these are nowhere to be seen.

Across Kapindasum river is a ghost shopping centre which at one point boasted of several shops and, hotels and posho mills. It is now desolate with termites racing against time to complete their assignment, ahead of the security operation and possible return of the absent owners.

Inside one of the abandoned and vandalised shop with only broken shelves, is a business permit issued to Edwin Kiprop by County Council of Baringo on March 9, 2010. He paid Sh200 to be permitted to run the shop. A resident, Paul Yatich said although the Government had kicked off the security operation, many of residents now living more than 45km away from their border with Pokots at Mukutani were unwilling to return until their security is assured.

“This is public relations exercise played by the Government, our people were killed while the State security watched and told the world that things were under control which was not the case. In the past, security officers deployed in the area colluded with the attackers and we are sure that will not happen again,” said Yatich.

Echoing his sentiments, Joseph Chebon, another resident, blamed the Government for “accepting to be fed with lies by Pokot leaders”. He said several girls dropped out of school and got married because of high poverty levels encountered by most parents following the sustained raids.

Mr Chebon asked the Government to commence investigations against some Pokot leaders from West Pokot County and Tiaty, alleging that they were behind the raids since 2005.

The displaced people do not have shelter. However, Rift Valley Regional Commissioner Osman Warfa is optimistic that National Youth Service will be deployed to assist locals rebuild their lives.

“The issue in Baringo is bigger than how we see it, time has come for those affected to speak the truth and assist the Government arrive at a just solution. It is not in dispute that people have been killed and property destroyed,” he said.

Pastoral communities in the North Rift have, for many years, been involved in armed conflict over cattle, pasture and water.