Once a source of livelihood,
Kabolet Forest now brings death to villagers
Story by KEN OPALA
06. March 2008
In the heart of Trans Nzoia East district is a settlement of 3,000
members of the Sengwer community also known as the Cherangany.
According to a local dialect, Cherangany means sunrise but the
people of this area have been living in the shadow of death due to
frequent attacks by militiamen.
The Sengwer, who live on the edges of Kabolet Forest, were settled
there in the 1980s by the then President Daniel arap Moi, after he
hived off part of the forest.
Last week, a handful of them held a meeting at Amani primary
school, where they lamented over their dwindling fortunes — no
thanks to insecurity.
“We have nothing left,” said Mr James Arap Chebii, a community
elder in charge of security. “Our people have been robbed and shot
dead by raiders from this forest.”
Once, Kabolet Forest was a source of livelihood for the remote
village. It is in the forest that dozens of streams originate,
providing sustenance for the people and their animals. The forest
was also the source of building materials and pasture. But now, it
brings death and destruction.
Three weeks ago, raiders emerged from the forest and overran the
Sengwer settlement. They killed scores of people and escaped with
hundreds of animals. Youths who tried to pursue the raiders were
gunned down deep in the forest.
A police post was set up near the village but the 10 officers
there can hardly match the firepower of the militia from Alale and
Kacheliba areas of West Pokot and Marakwet districts.
Last Thursday, as President Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga
were signing a peace pact, 93 pupils returned to Amani primary
school. but the other 410 were yet to return, according to Tobias
Rawangi, the headmaster. No teacher reported for duty either. All
had fled after the militia killed the spouse of one of them in
By the end of last month, only one in ten people from the area had
returned to their homes. “We found our houses broken into,
granaries emptied and our animals taken away,” said Ms Jane
“We cannot till our lands, our children are being raped. We are
just waiting for God (to rescue us).”
According to her, the police had failed. And not just in
The larger Trans Nzoia – including Kwanza and Saboti
constituencies – has been overrun by the militias from Mt Elgon,
West Pokot and Marakwet districts. Dozens of people have been
killed and livestock stolen in sporadic raids by people dressed in
outfits that resemble those of the police. A reported 30,000
cattle have been stolen in just months in Trans Nzoia alone.
Villages along the Mt Elgon/Trans Nzoia border – including
Gituamba, Salama, Kimondo, Kalaha and Nasianda – have been wiped
out by the Sabaot Land Defence Force which operates from the
forests of Mt Elgon.
Ruins have replaced homes in Kaibos, Talau and Kaisagat in West
Pokot, and in Kapterit, Kamoi, Chesabet and Kapcherob in Marakwet,
said Mr Solomon Cherongos, the director of Cherangany Multipurpose
Cattle-rustling is not new in West Pokot and Marakwet. In fact,
it’s a tradition for some communities. But frequent assaults by
security personnel since 2003 had almost wiped out the raiders.
Things turned back last December when militiamen took advantage of
the confusion arising from the disputed election results to
increase their raids, said Mr Loyford Kibaara, the West Pokot
According to him, the raiders attack areas close to Kabolet Forest
and steal animals before retreating into the forest.
“The animals are hidden in the forest for a while before they are
taken to markets in Uganda and also here in Kenya,” Mr Kibaara
His counterpart from the neighbouring Trans Nzoia East district
concurs. “They come in large numbers from the forest, steal cattle
and escape back into the forest,” said Mr Seis Matata.
Initially the raiders targeted the Sengwer but “they took
advantage of the post-election crisis to target other communities
Such attacks are possible because of the many guns in civilian
hands. A survey by the Kitale Catholic Diocese found that almost
every household in West Pokot and Marakwet has a gun. West Pokot
alone had 150,000 guns, according to Mr Leonard Barasa, the
diocese’s Peace and Justice Commission director. “There appears to
be a gun for every three people.”
Incidentally, a gun and a cow are the most important possessions
in the region bypassed by the wheels of development for close to
Traditionally, rustling was intended to raise dowry (which was
about 50 cattle) and to act as security during hard times. Owning
cattle was a symbol of status – the more you had the high-placed
you were in the community.
“Livestock was a sign of wealth,” said Mr Gilbert Saina, the legal
officer at the Kitale Catholic Diocese’s Peace and Justice
Commission. “People just stole to have the numbers.”
But times have changed. “Elites are using warriors to steal (for
them)” he said. “It has become an economic activity”
The proceeds from stolen livestock are used to arm militias.
Warlords could be acquiring guns to buttress their community’s
interests and fortunes. In Trans Nzoia, West Pokot and Marakwet
districts, some leaders, including politicians and community
elders, are staging the raids to fund their militia groups.
The militias have stolen about Sh10 million worth of cattle in
West Pokot, according to studies by the Kitale Catholic Diocese.
“In Trans Nzoia, they have been driving away, on average, 250
cattle” in each raid. This translates to about Sh5 million, said
Mr Leonard Barasa, the director of Kitale Catholic Diocese’s
Justice and Peace Commission.
The police have planned a massive operation against the militia
“We are waiting to see the sunlight,” said Ms Millicent Temor. She
was displaced after the raiders escaped with her livestock on