Pokot, Samburu conflict displaces thousands

Heavily pregnant and with a bullet lodged in her leg, Mary Lenayasa hitched, ran and trekked for two days to reach a church at a remote centre hosting thousands of displaced families in Samburu District, northern Kenya.

Lenayasa managed to escape death during an attack by bandits in which six people, including her husband, were killed a month ago, forcing her to flee.

"I lost everything - my husband, all our livestock and good neighbours," she said, cradling a newborn boy, whom she delivered a day after arriving at the Sugutamarmar Church compound in Samburu.

"The situation in Samburu is bad, we can't go back to Losuk. Who will help me, my baby and the other five children?" she said, standing outside her flimsy hut made of sticks, pieces of cloth and plastic bags.

James Lowasa, also displaced, added: "The Pokot raiders [who have been attacking the Samburu and taking their livestock] have made us miserable, taken away our wealth. Many people are now poor. More women are now widows and children orphaned after the killing of many men."

Lowasa has stayed at the church compound for more than six months with no hope of returning home as more people keep arriving at the centre.

The situation at Sugutamarmar, where more than 3,000 people have sought refuge for the past seven months because of banditry and cattle-rustling, is repeated across most parts of northern Kenya.

Government officials and aid agencies from the region acknowledged that insecurity has worsened. In Samburu, the acting district commissioner, Adan Halake, said the fighting between the Samburu and Pokot over land and attempts to restock livestock lost to drought had increased.

"The fighting has lasted for quite a long time and has disrupted all activities in the district. The government is making all efforts to restore order and is using a lot of resources to achieve that," Halake said.

He said the latest assessment in September to gauge the impact of the conflict established that at least 22,000 people had been displaced from grazing fields and trading centres.

The report also reveals that some 4,000 children have abandoned education due to the crisis and 21 schools remain closed, while four health centres have been closed for more than six months.

Women bear the burden

Rebecca Lolosoli of the Samburu women cultural group said women bear the burden of the crisis. "Samburu women require urgent assistance; they have been raped, killed, lost their husbands, livestock and now many have taken on a new role as household heads," she said, adding that it was very hard for them as "they have no skills, are illiterate and traumatised by the many raids".

Lenapasia Legwasi, a mother of six, camping at the Olmoran Catholic Church in Laikipia after being uprooted from her home in Rumurutri two months ago, said many women had become victims of further attacks at the camps. "Men, children and women are forced to sleep together. "It has exposed some women to more danger and some have been attacked and raped while sleeping in these camps," she said.

More than 1,000 people are camping at the Olmoran school. The Reverend John Volpato, who is in charge of the Olmoran Catholic Parish, said women and children were the most affected by the crisis and added that many parents had withdrawn their children from school for fear of reprisals from rival ethnic groups.

The Laikipia Education Office report for September showed that seven schools had closed. It also reported that the fighting had reversed gains made in increasing school enrolment in the region, inhabited by pastoralists.

Joseph Samal, coordinator of the Catholic Development Office in Isiolo, said it would take many years to recover from the current conflicts and called on the government to show commitment by arresting and prosecuting those involved.

In Marsabit, where more than 10,000 people have been displaced by persistent cross-border raids and conflicts between the Borana and Gabras groups, the Catholic peace and justice office and the Red Cross said conflict continued to cause humanitarian crises in the region and stopped crucial services such as health and education.

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