Judith Kemei @PeopleDailyKE
The men, draped in their traditional regalia till the ground with enthusiasm. Songs of war break out intermittently to lull the monotony. For these men, there is only one battle they aim to win – the war against hunger and poverty.
They are all reformed bandits who once raided their neighbours to steal cattle, but now till the land to eke out a living. They are from Tiaty constituency in Baringo county, a region known as the hotbed of producing cattle rustlers. The narrative is changing after the deadly bandits decided to reform and venture into farming.
More than 30 reformed bandits from the area have vowed to down the culture and start life in a different way that will not harm anyone, but rather bring change to the region.
According to the reformed bandits, what triggered them to raid other communities were boundary issue, pasture and poverty. Today, they have nothing to show for it, despite losing many comrades during the raids. Gideon Lenatik, who lost two friends, says they raided other communities due to poverty.
During our visit to the area, Lenatik recalls how they went to raid the Kapedo border of Baringo and Turkana. His brother was killed and a gun, which he had lent him confiscated by police. He admits the incident changed him and if he didn’t lose his gun maybe he would still be committing the heinous acts and might have been killed by now.
Lenatik dropped out of school in Form One at Chemolingot Secondary School for lack of school fees. “After my father was killed life was rough for us and I was forced to leave school and start stealing to provide for our family. It is so sad that I lost my brother,” narrates Lenatik.
The 21-year-old man says after realising that rustling would not help him, he decided to farm after getting some ideas from Reverend Titus Lokales Makisa from Machakos who visited the area and began teaching them alternative ways of earning a livelihood.
Lenatik reveals he started his life as a farmer with 15 goats after others he had acquired in the raids died of unknown diseases and drought. “I did not imagine that I would have a better life after abandoning banditry, but I am now rejoicing and I will never raid again.
I have started selling the produce from my farm,” adds the reformed bandit. He is now focusing on raising school fees by selling his farm produce so that he can go back to school, adding he is ready to go back to school anytime, if sponsored.
Lenatik urges his colleagues who are still raiding to join them and stop the retrogressive culture that will not help them in any way. He calls upon the government to use them to preach peace since they know their colleagues who are still committing the heinous acts and they should be visited in their homes or hideouts and advised to reform.
He further urges his community to embrace education since it is the key to ending cattle rustling and banditry in the region, adding that the government should build more schools in the area. “We have realised we have been lagging behind in education and development.
The government should focus on that because it is the main thing that will change the Pokot community,” says Lenatik. The County Director of Education Willy Machocho says he will ensure education will be the priority in the area and all children who abscond school are taken back.
He says the government is considering building nomadic schools so that pastoralist communities can continue with their education.
According to Reverend Masika who taught the community how to venture into farming, the initiative was formed to give free service to the people of Pokot so that it can help them change their lifestyle.
Masika urges the government to partner with the Church, adding that it will be a cheaper way to achieve development and root out cattle rustling and banditry in the region.