News 2008


Violence rages despite heavy security in volatile zone

Daily Nation


12. March 2008

Police vehicles jam a dusty and bumpy path leading to Rumuruti forest in Laikipia West District in the wake of renewed wave of violence that has claimed more than 13 lives and left property worth millions of shillings in ruins.

A sharp stench wafts in the air and dead bodies and clothing litter the path. A few metres away fire is spreading fast across five villages, consuming both household goods and creating a swath of wasteland.

Gunshots can be heard from a few kilometres away deep in the bush, prompting some security officers to head to that direction. Another contingent is dispatched to unblock the Nyahururu-Maralal road near Gatundia, which women, children and older men have barricaded, protesting at the soaring insecurity. Residents accuse police of being of little help.

The ethnic violence, triggered off by the earlier lynching of a suspected cattle thief, opened fresh wounds of hatred and suspicion, precipitated by cattle rustling that has rocked the area for decades.

The lynching added fuel to the brewing hatred between the farming and pastoral communities. It took ruthless gangs from one community 72 hours to prepare and wage a revenge attack in the wee hours of the night.

The vicious raids, carried out simultaneously by more than 400 gunmen, left a trail of deaths, injuries and destruction and led to a bloody clash the following day.

The attacks in Gatundia, Ndagara, Magomano, Mutamaiyu, Muguongo, Munyu, Oranyiro and Murichu villages, left six people dead and 200 houses burnt. Eight primary schools - Murichu, Oranyiro, Kinite, Gathui, Muguongo, Ndagara, Melwa and Lolanyiro - have been closed indefinitely.

Youths quickly assembled and plotted to pursue the raiders, who split into two groups and headed toward northern and southern parts of vast Laikipia plains.

At Nyahururu district hospital mortuary, six bodies were received while the injured were admitted to the wards and others to Rumuruti sub-district hospital.

Killed accomplice

At Muguongo, a pregnant woman was shot dead after she declined to disclose the whereabouts of her husband, who the bandits accused of being involved in the killing of their accomplice.

Her one-year-old son was knocked down with a blunt object and was admitted to Rumuruti hospital.

“They killed about seven people in the dawn attack. They also stole phones and personal effects. This time, they did not take away cows,” said Mr David Thumbi, a local elder.

Still, worse was to come. The raiders shot dead four youths, who were in a group of 600 armed with arrows and spears. Ten youths were seriously wounded and taken to hospital.

The youths, in a self defence, retreated but police went further but unsuccessfully.

“I saw them and they brandished sophisticated guns that do not resemble those of local police officers,” said Mwangi Nderu, one of the youths.

Last Friday morning, the raiders struck again at Mutamaiyu village, killing three people and stole 40 head of cattle. The residents believe the attack was aimed at eliminating influential figures.

Bullets struck Mr Michael Kariuki Guandaru, who was walking alongside his sons, immediately after they attended prayers for peace and unity.

As they prayed, they heard distress calls from neighbouring homesteads. Little did Mr Guandaru know that the marauding gangs were also in his compound. Three sons of the 50-year-old pastor slipped away unscathed.

Pool of blood

“My eldest son called me from hideout, complaining that their father was not answering calls. It came to my mind that gunshots fired in the compound hit him,” Ms Magdaline Wambui, the wife of the pastor, told the Nation at the scene.

Just a few kilometres from Mr Guandaru’s home, the raiders killed Mr Robin Muthiga, a trader and speared his wife several times. They then proceeded to the home of Mr William Ngumba and shot the owner and stole 20 sheep.

In the neighbourhood, they killed an unidentified man who spoke their dialect. The bodies were taken to Nyahururu mortuary.

Hundreds of residents have fled to police stations, posts and safer zones as more houses were burnt at Mutamaiyu. Some are heading to Central Province with others opting to go towards Maralal Town.

Most residents have been using donkey carts and vehicles to ferry their belongings to Nyahururu and Nyandarua.

The Nation crew found emaciated and hungry families at Gatundia police post as more trickled in with some of their belongings.

The victims said they had not eaten anything since last Thursday night. They said their harvest and household goods were destroyed by fire.

“We have really suffered. The clashes have rendered us homeless and hungry,” said Pastor Loshishi Erukeli.

He said the bad blood between them and their neighbours had been caused by primitive cultural values, which encouraged cattle rustling, among other vices.

Mr Erukeli appealed for assistance, saying the surrounding community could not deny them food. “We have lived together for many years and whoever brought trouble was not from our midst,” said the man of the cloth.

He said that most of their grass-thatch houses in 15 out of 20 manyattas had been reduced to ashes. They accused their neighbours of treating them with suspicion, yet they knew each other well.

Land issues

The residents accuse some neighbours of collusion with rustlers.

“We have some spies in our midst who collude with rustlers to terrorise at night. They do not report rustling, but we do it often,” a resident, who sought anonymity, said.

Local leaders say the conflict is not linked to political or land issues. “Economic difference between farmers and pastoralists is enormous and this has led to suspicion and hatred,” said Mr Joseph Eilman, the chairman of Rumuruti town council.

The chairman said some communities have been sidelined for long in the distribution of resources and this could result to violence to bridge the gap.

He asked the Government to improve infrastructure in areas dominated by pastoralists and boost their economic gains.

Area district commissioner Julius Mutula has advised the residents to return home and form a reconciliation committee, as part of a lasting solution.