News 2008


The Mount Elgon Debacle

Day 5: Dateline July 15th 2008.


Two more children are the latest victims of the reign of terror being perpetrated in the name of the Government of Kenya on the Ogiek peoples of Mount Elgon's Chepkitale region.


I have seen ghost towns in countries all over the world: deserted former gold rush centres in Nevada, old silver mine towns in Canada, towns left uninhabited after rebel militias terrorised the inhabitants and forced them to flee.

In Chepyuk in Mount Elgon in 2007 several villages were left as empty shells after the bandit SLDF militia made the places unsafe to live in. Places like Makutano, Chepkurkur and ten or more others were left just memories of their former vibrant market existence. The dukas were roofless, burned bits of wood and mabati.

But Chebong'weny is new in my experience. Here the market is also just a collection of bits of bamboo and piles of ashes, but the reason this time is not insurgent terrorism or exhausted mines, but the action of government forces.

The former UNICEF tented school is merely a jumble of metal poles. The MSF clinic has totally ceased to exist. The tiny shops are burned out. The school will never ring to children's voices again.

Today the terrified and traumatised inhabitants who sought refuge at Chebong'weny from the SLDF in Chepyuk or from tribal infighting following the disputed elections at the end of 2007, are huddled in cold, shivering groups in pockets scattered across the forests surrounding this village.

Eighteen months ago there were no houses here. Now the same is true again.

The difference is that there are people. They shelter under trees, live in caves, stare around with the unmistakable blank eyes of the haunted.

The District Commissioner came today. "Leave by tomorrow or I will make sure things are hard for you," he said.

The crowd around him must have wondered how much harder they could get: the government security forces have burned their food and bedding, destroyed their houses, stolen their belongings.


Two four-year-old boys have been missing for three days. Terrified, they ran when their homes were targeted by the askari. They have not been seen since. Most suspect they will never be found alive now.

In most countries a caring administration would mobilise its forces to search for this children. In Mount Elgon, it is mobilising them to force the toddlers' parents to leave the area tomorrow and to give up all hope of finding these innocents. They are being deserted to the wild, to death from the wet and cold, or at the mercy of wild animals.

Obviously, child welfare is a sick joke in Mount Elgon.

The Commissar sorry, Commissioner wants the 471 families, the 3500 people to make its way by its own means the 45 km to Chepyuk.

The problem is that this throwback to the dictatorial days of the Moi era has not told one of these people where exactly at Chepyuk he wants them to go. Many never had land there. Many more had their plots in the area now occupied by an army barracks. Those who might find their old farms will probably find them now farmed by others. What does the DC want, to re-ignite the tensions of 2006?


Some are willing to go, but ask, why in the middle of the rainy season? Houses cannot be build now, there is no grass for thatch, fields cannot be ploughed, no harvest is possible this season. As neither Red Cross nor the administration has food to offer the IDPs and their meagre stocks were burned during this week's operation, they fairly ask, what will we eat, where will we live?

These people are requesting to be allowed to move in January when they can build and plant. But no, the DC says: "Tomorrow or else."

How many more will die?

150 years ago in America the native Indians began a trek which resulted in the deaths of thousands forced by the white settlers and its army. The result was the Indian Wars. About 120 years ago the Boers of South Africa began their great trek to establish a homeland and again thousands died forced by white British settlers. The result was two long wars, the Boer Wars. Now, today, in Kenya the Ogiek are being forced on a trek which will inevitably result in many deaths forced by a black, Kenyan administration personified by the Somali DC of Mount Elgon.

Will we never learn?