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Kinamba Town: Forgotten and in war.

 

A shot of Kinamba town. Businessmen in the centre say they are often targeted by marauding pastorolists who bring their cows into surrounding farmland during the day, and loot their shops during the night.

Kinamba trading centre lies some 50 kilometres North of Nyahururu Town. It is a small agricultural settlement. When the rains fall, it is covered in lush vegetation. Here, almost everything grows. The farmers do not use fertiliser to encourage their seeds to sprout.

“The soil is good,” Esther Wanjiru says. “We have rain and we have water,” she adds.

What he doesn’t say is that they have tears, scars and open wounds from a conflict that continues to eat at their existence leaving many residents with tales of fear, torture, death, rape and loss.

One night in May, her husband Simon Gitonga Wang’ondu heard a noise outside.

“It was around 1am. We were all asleep. We heard voices outside. Then heard our cows and goats moving around in their pen,” she says.

Simon, being the man of the house, asked who the people outside were.

“They said if I wanted to die, I should dare step outside, he says. He peeped through a small window and saw two dozen men roaming around in the moonlight. Then suddenly one of them beat down his door with the butt of his gun.

“More than ten of them came in. Four came to our bedroom ad pointed guns at us. They then started ransacking a metal box that had all our clothes,” Wanjiru says.

What followed was surreal. Esther says the men kept trying on different clothes. One would put on Simon’s shirt, another would pull out Esther’s skirt and put it on.

Esther Wanjiru will never forget what happened on that dark night in March.Still, she manages to put a smile out to the world while weeping inside.

As she talks, their youngest daughter seats next to her mother, he face cupped in her right palm. A sadness slowly sits on her. What her mother says next opens up the well of tears behind her eyes.

As the men in their room were putting on her clothes in jest, four others were in her daughter’s bedroom taking off the 18 year old’s nightdress. Then took turns on her. Three hours later the men with guns went away leaving behind a bleeding and now unconscious daughter, a guilt edged father and a mother who didn’t have the words to comfort her child.

“I will never forgive them for what they did,” Simon says. “We knew something was coming. We had heard what politicians were saying. We just didn’t know they would do this.”

Kinamba town borders the Laikipia Nature Conservancy, what was once Ol Ari Nyiro, a 98,000 acre farm that licks lake Baringo on one end and Samburu on another. Kinamba sits on the ranch’s eastern bounder. And for as long as the residents of the town can remember, has provided some sort of buffer between Pokot rangeland and the blocks of farmland that Esther and many others occupy.

When the raiders perforated the buffer zone and made it into LNC, where they looted, burnt and shot at Kuki Gallman, they then roamed free into Kinamba.

“The worst thing is that we knew of the political rhetoric on the ground. We told the police. But they never responded in time,” Joseph Njuguna says. Njuguna no longer lives in his house. Dozens of other families have left their houses, their farms, their only sources of income to seek refuge in the town.

“They have taken everything from us. Our farms, businesses, our dignity. If we stay behind they will take our lives too,” Njuguna says.

On July 13th, a contingent of senior policemen were deployed to the area on fact finding mission. They were on strict orders to try and find lasting solutions for a larger Kinamba peace keeping mission. One of the tasks was to identify grounds large enough to accommodate another police post in the area. But they underestimated the enemy.

On many days, Joseph Njuguna is accompanied by his wife to their farm They will have no harvest this year. The raiders’ cows ate everything on their piece of land. Now, every afternoon they go to the farm to forage.

As the police land cruiser drove up the surrounding hills from Kinamba town, past Esther’s house towards the LNC fence, a single shot rang through the air. Passing clean through the wind screen of the police Landcruiser. It seemed like the attack was coming from the front. The police vehicle came to a screeching halt and the officers, who numbered eight in total jumped out from the side of the vehicles readying themselves for whatever lay ahead.

Unknown to them, the raiders, who had all along been on a vantage point had eyes on them. Keeping track as the policemen made their way through the hills and lay ambush.

As soon as their boots hit the ground, bullets came flying from every direction. The surrounding thickets had provided perfect camouflage for what is thought to be Pokot raiders.

“We heard the gunfire for three hours,” John Nyongio, another Kinamba resident said. “It only stopped when reinforcement was sent in by the military who all along had been having an operation in the area,” Nyongio said.

Only the sight of an APC made the raiders retreat, leaving behind bullet cartridges from the Kenya Ordinance factory, six dead policemen and two injured ones.

“If they can do this to policemen, what can we do with our spears and rungus,” Nyongio says. On another night, he lost four cows, seven goats and four sheep. He says he feels like a man who has lost his life savings.

Through its residents, Kinamba is trying to rise again. But before it moves from the floor, gets on it knees and stands up to face the world again, long days lie ahead. Days of suffering and heartache. Days of loss and hunger.

“But we know we will get there,” Njuguna says. It is midday. His wife and son have accompanied him to what used to be their farm before the invasions started. The had planted maize, potatoes and beans. The raiders left nothing above ground. And when they left, wild animals came for the the little potatoes that remained under ground. But the Njugunas believe that if they look hard enough and long enough, they might find some food that survived the snout of warthogs and moles.

For now, Kinamba trudges on, lost in the noise of a conflict that has become personal to its residents.

George Gathitu looks out towards the expansive Laikipia Nature Conservancy from where the Pokot raiders set up camp after overrunning the owner, Kuki Gallman.

 

Story originally published in the Standard on Sunday on August 27th 2017

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