By Hilary Halkano Bukuno – Director CPI Kenya
The most recent fatalities in Baragoi’s 21 years of conflict between Samburu and Turkana occurred in March, 2017. An elderly man and a young boy were killed and their cows were stolen, according to the teachers who participated in a peace training organized by Children Peace Initiative Kenya with the support of Rotary International. But this was not the last episode of violence; on Saturday 1st July 2017, a vehicle belonging to the member of parliament for Samburu North was shot at along Baragoi–Maralal road. Nobody was injured during the incident. Though there is relative calm in Baragoi, occasional and unexpected flare ups of violence like the shooting on the road continue to occur and arouse tribal animosity.
During CPI Kenya’s recent peace training, teachers from Maralal, Baragoi and Baringo reflected deeply on the effect of conflict in Baragoi. Teachers shared that there has been mass displacement of both Samburu and Turkana communities from Baragoi. Displaced Turkanas relocate to Loiyangalani, Arches Post, and Isiolo; Samburus resettle in Maralal and other areas in Samburu county. To date approximately 6 schools have been closed due to tribal violence in Baragoi—some of them permanently. Kawab, Charda, Ndonyongir, Natir, White Stream, Mbukoy, and Loruko primary schools have been affected. Villages have also been abandoned and properties in these villages vandalized and destroyed. The villages include Kawab, White Stream, Parkishon, Longirgir, and Mbukoy. The effort by the Catholic church to open a new parish in Naturkan never materialized, even after the structures to establish the parish were set up, because a catechist was killed. The church abandoned the plan to open the parish.
Before the conflict escalated into violence in 1996, both the Turkana and Samburu cultivated the fertile Namalia belt, producing food for the region. Today the Namalia belt is a no-go zone for both communities and farming at the belt is no more. The two communities do not share resources; grazing fields and water sources are contested. According to the teachers, there is more water on the Turkana side of Baragoi and better grazing land on the Samburu side. However, the benefits of these comparative advantages are not enjoyed as Turkanas and Samburus cannot access each other’s territory. Teachers shared that projects intended to serve both communities are implemented in vain because territorial divides dictate which tribe will have access. For example, a market stall constructed on the Samburu side will not be used by Turkanas; or a sub-surface dam excavated on the Turkana side will not be accessed by Samburus. This has led to many stalled projects and underdevelopment in Baragoi.
People in Baragoi live in constant fear of the unknown. They can’t develop their land or construct a descent, permanent shelter for fear of displacement. Many families still live in semi-permanent homes. In Baragoi, conflict has also had extreme effects on business. Teachers recalled that Turkanas and Samburus in Baragoi used to trade livestock with each other. The Turkana in Baragoi have better camel breeds while the Samburu have better cows. Such businesses are no more. Today there are no common markets in Baragoi where the two communities meet to do serious commercial activities together, even though land has been set aside for such market places. This has affected the economy of Baragoi significantly.
Baragoi town is divided by road, precisely the road from Maralal to South Horr and Loiyangalani. One side of the road is only for Turkana settlements and the other side is only inhabited by Samburus. A Turkana cannot own land or settle on the Samburu side of Baragoi and vice versa. Most businesses along the road are owned by people from other communities. Still, on either side there are businesses owned by people of Baragoi. When guns are silent for a few months both communities can access goods and services on either side, but when violence erupts the two sides of Baragoi become a no-go zone for members of the other community. We encountered the family of former Paramount Chief Lenaitorono in Baragoi, who had a bar, restaurant, butchery and lodging business in the middle of Baragoi town. His family had a residential home on a ranch outside the town but because of insecurity they can no longer live on the ranch. The family had to convert their business into a home and to do so parts of the business (bar, restaurant and butchery) were shut to make the environment livable. This is clear evidence of how conflict affects business.
Until 1996, there was a single cemetery in Baragoi town where both communities laid their dead to rest. Today the two communities bury their dead in separate burial ground. Even their dead are not at peace.
Another challenge facing people in Baragoi is that many are dying silently because of guns in the wrong hands. There are many unreported cases of both accidental and intentional killings within families and the communities. Teachers shared a sad story of how a family lost four children when a detachable magazine loaded with bullets fell into fire. The explosion of bullets instantly killed the four children in the house. One of the children was playing with the magazine without the father’s knowledge when it accidentally fell into the fire. This tragedy happened in a village near Masikita in Baragoi. Teachers confirmed that cases like this are all too frequent.
Baragoi hit national and international limelight in November, 2012 when 42 police officers pursuing cattle rustlers were killed in an ambush by raiders in Suguta Valley. The government responded by deploying more security personnel to the area to improve security. Despite government efforts, peace consolidation remains a major concern. The situation in Baragoi calls for urgent and concerted effort by local, national, and international partners to allay further deterioration of the already perilous situation.
Children Peace Initiative Kenya, with the support Rotary International, is working in Baragoi to bring peace to this conflict-ridden area. Our method uses youth, teachers, and parents (especially women) as the initial and primary peace building agents. In this approach, CPI Kenya is makes school children from rival ethnic groups friends for peace; through them their immediate families are connected. From child to child the circle of friendship for peace is extended outward to families linking the larger community. As the Director of CPI Kenya, I appeal to peace actors all over the world to join us in ending 21 years of tribal conflict in Baragoi.