Kenya: spiritual leaders accused of deadly retaliatory attacks in Kerio Valley

There is growing concern that the deadly attacks in the Kerio Valley, which have left 12 dead and displaced hundreds of families, are being fueled by spiritual leaders who offer blessings and swear an oath to bandits before they do. organize raids.

Spiritual leaders, called laibons by local communities, plan raids and give instructions to bandits and their supernatural powers are believed to be absolute to rule blessings or curses.

But the laibons are now on the spot for the heinous killings during reprisal attacks between the pastoral communities Marakwet and Pokot.

“Spiritual leaders take an oath and offer blessings to bandits who participate in attacks, reversing gains made in promoting peaceful coexistence among pastoral communities,” Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya said at the meeting. ‘a safety meeting at Tot last Wednesday.

He urged spiritual leaders to surrender or risk arrest for their involvement in the new armed conflicts.

“It is unfortunate that these laibons even threaten the security teams involved in the ongoing crackdown on the criminals behind the attacks,” he said.

“According to our intelligence reports, they predicted that we will not have a peace meeting here.”

He warned that the law will be harsh on individuals who fuel armed conflict, regardless of their position in society.

‘Supernatural powers’

The developments came as security teams confirmed that Home Secretary Fred Matiang’i will travel to the troubled Kerio Valley, whose two-year peace has been disrupted by attacks that now appear to target individuals rather than random attacks on innocent victims of yesteryear.

The Laibons are revered for their perceived supernatural powers among the Marakwet, Pokot, Turkana and other Kalenjin and Nilotic communities.

Two spiritual leaders were arrested in Baringo County last year and indicted for their alleged connection to protracted armed conflicts in the region.

The designation of suspects behind recurring cattle raids and a government ultimatum for residents to return illegally held firearms have sparked further attacks among warring pastoral communities.

Among those killed were two members of Endo’s peace committee, Marakwet East, who were shot dead last week by suspected Pokot bandits.

Desmond Kiptoo, a fourth grader at Sobero Primary School in Marakwet East, was gunned down while tending to his family’s cattle on the banks of the Kerio River.

“I don’t understand why they had to kill such an innocent child. They should have taken away the animals and saved his life,” said Salome Ruto, Kiptoo’s grandmother.

The boy was buried last week in a moving ceremony attended by local leaders, who called for an end to clashes between communities.

“They shot him a lot of bullets like he was a criminal. It pains me a lot since he was my only boy,” said Kiptoo’s father, Eliud Chemitoi.

Among the families mourning their loved ones killed in retaliatory attacks is that of Benjamin Lokerem, chairman of the peace committee in Kowowo locality, Marakwet East, who was shot and killed by suspected Pokot bandits two weeks ago.

“He was our livelihood and his death spells doom the family,” said his widow Bilaras Cheboi.

Notorious bandits

Residents the Nation spoke to said the retaliatory attacks undermined the socio-economic conditions of residents of both communities.

“There are a lot of accusations and counter-accusations about the real cause of these attacks. Security teams need to pursue the suspects behind the attacks and hold them to account,” Lokarem’s brother Julius Changur said. .

A list of nine notorious bandits – three from Pokot Central, three from Marakwet East and three from Tiaty, Pokot East – has been handed over to security officials following a series of peace meetings by lawmakers, elders and directors from Elgeyo-Marakwet, West Pokot and Baringo counties.

“We have decided to name and shame those who are causing the instability in the region. We cannot allow a few criminals to undo the gains made by the peace that reigns in the region. They must be arrested alive or dead, ”said Kangogo, MP for Marakwet East. Bowen at a previous peace meeting in Chesogon.

“If you are from West Pokot County and come to Elgeyo Marakwet to steal animals, we are very sure that you will not be sharing the loot with the whole community but with your immediate family,” Sigor MP Peter said. Lochakapong at the peace meeting.

“So we will come looking for you as a person and it is the responsibility of your loved ones to reveal your hiding place.”

Cattle thefts, the lawmaker said, are well-coordinated networks among pastoralists in the region.

It’s a shift in tactics as raiders and bandits go digital, embracing mobile phone technology and social media to stage attacks and evade security patrols.

Adventurers from pastoral communities in northern Kenya, who have long been viewed as illiterate and tech-savvy, use mobile phone apps like WhatsApp to mobilize reinforcements in attacks and connect with their parents in urban areas that provide them with the gadgets.

Social media abuse

“Cell phones have proven to be practical and reliable as raiders adopt new tactics to stage attacks. This makes it difficult for security teams to crack down on criminals,” said Mark Ajon Lokwawi, of Lokiriama in Loima, in. Turkana County.

Most pastoralists in Turkana and West Pokot counties, especially young people between the ages of 18 and 40, own cell phones.

“Most of the kids here are embracing technology. They use social media platforms like WhatsApp to defend their interests, including organizing raids and bypassing security teams, ”said human rights activist Esekon Ekiru.

He linked the deadly attacks pitting pastors against one another to abuse of social media by elites in warring communities.

“Some prominent people, especially in urban areas, use social media to incite communities against each other, resulting in revenge attacks.”

Warriors use cell phones to receive updates on current affairs, including government plans to conduct disarmament operations.

“Digital platforms have made it easier for most people to get information about such remote areas where newspapers are hard to come by,” said Zablon Natieng, of Natira, Turkana West.

In insecure Kapedo, on the border of Turkana East and Tiaty Sub-county, calm is slowly returning after Safaricom erected base stations and masts to strengthen the communication network and complement the work of security agencies.

Improved mobile networks

Safaricom masts on Silale Hill in Tiaty Sub-county and Napeitom in Turkana East facilitated distress calls to security officers in the event of an attack.

Francis Lopalal, a trader at the Kapedo shopping center, claimed that the lack of mobile networks in the past contributed to relentless bandit attacks and cattle rustling in the area as criminals mounted attacks and fled to their hiding places without being reported.

“The communications mast on Silale Hill has helped us access the outside world and because this area is volatile it also helps us sound the alarm when criminals strike,” he said.

“There was no access to such services in the past and people were killed and livestock stolen by armed bandits who, after committing the crimes, fled to their hiding places without reporting.

In the past, locals would get on a police truck, drive to Chesitet, where there was a mobile network, and make phone calls for a fixed period of time. They would then be pushed back by armed police to protect them from criminal attacks.

Ali Etukan also praised the improvement of the network, which he said has helped improve security and bolster economic standards in the region.

“We normally get our fresh produce in the town of Marigat, more than 40 km away, but due to insecurity in the past and a poor communication network, several people, including security guards, have lost their way. life after being ambushed by armed criminals en route because they were unable to sound the alarm, “he said.

“Things are looking better now as we can do follow-ups to make sure they reach their destinations safely.”

James Etee, a security officer in charge of the Kapedo Rapid Deployment Unit, noted that a better mobile network in the bandit-prone region facilitated security operations and patrols.

“We used to have a challenge when conducting security operations in sensitive areas because when our officers are deployed to various destinations, they could not communicate to tell us where they were at any given time. and that exposed them to attacks from armed criminals, “he said.

Improved security

“The mobile network has also helped us track the movements of criminals over the phone because someone can spot them in a certain place and we can coordinate to repel them easily, unlike in the past where you could walk in the bush at the looking for bandits who had their own ways of communicating and ended up killing you instead. ”

The officer noted that the communication also facilitated response, coordination and dissemination of information among security agencies.

Lomelo County Deputy Commissioner Jake Jirongo said in the past, with poor mobile and road networks, it was difficult to administer the insecure region.

“Cattle theft was very common due to a poor network and prosecuting the criminals was a mirage because you couldn’t tell where they were heading with the stolen animals,” he said.

The placement of the Safaricom mast at Napeitom in Turkana East in 2018, he said, also helped boost security.

“Gun criminals are tech savvy and normally take advantage when they know there is poor communication in an area to allow them to carry out their crimes without reporting them,” he said.

“Communication masts in this area have crippled their operations. Although we have isolated cases, residents are now at peace.”

Several attacks have taken place in the region in the past, including the killing of 19 administrative police officers, who were shot dead in a deadly ambush in Kasarani in 2014.

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