Hunger bites in Kenya’s breadbasket
*The story first appeared in Kenya Weekly, a political news magazine to which I contribute these days.
By JESSE MASAI
How did Cherangany constituency join the wider North Rift in becoming a flashpoint of the violence witnessed since last year’s disputed polls?
With over 200,000 residents and just over 55,000 registered voters, few had expected the multi-ethnic area to explode, especially since it had survived the ethnic strife that hit other parts of the province in years gone by.
Cherang’any’s tranquil, for long the pride of many, was suddenly no more.
Kikuyu and Kisii residents were especially hard-hit, with over 70 of them reportedly killed, another 35,000 displaced and over 1,300 houses razed to the ground.
At the time of this writing, only Sitatunga ward, seat of Kaplamai Division and nearest to the headquarters of Trans-Nzoia East District, appeared to have had no ugly incident resulting from the post-poll chaos, – but even then, only just.
Signs that things could turn ugly were evident as early as last October when talk was rife that some area politicians were keen on igniting violence either to displace some voters or generally shift the electoral agenda to who among the contestants could best shepherd the locals against insecurity.
Until then, insecurity in the area had almost always been an issue of occasional small-time theft and the periodic livestock raids from the neighboring Marakwet and West Pokot districts, all of which had been no major cause for worry compared to other constituencies in wider Trans-Nzoia.
As the campaigns heated up, however, there was increased concern over insecurity bred in Cherang’any itself, especially as local communities began to coalesce around their tribes ahead of the polls.
Suddenly, there was a proliferation of “council of elders” meetings on the part of all the major tribes residing there, all scheming and plotting on how best to capture civic seats as well as the top seat in Cherang’any constituency.
Money changed hands, with elders being bought across ethnic and party lines day and night.
Sources suggest at least four aspirants spent well over Kshs. 100,000 trying to woo the elders either way on any given day.
An aspirant, who lost, reportedly spent Kshs. 30,000,000 on the whole of his campaign, a large part of which comprised playing councils of elders against each other depending on how the waves were faring on a given day.
Complications arose when some areas became no-go zones for campaigns; aspirants were begging to zone off portions of Cherang’any, with deadly consequences.
One parliamentary aspirant and his entourage were beaten when they campaigned in Sitatunga ward (incidentally his own home area), as some red flags began waving.
No ugly incident, however, was reported when ODM’s Joshua Kuttuny clinched victory against a crowded field.
Trouble, however, came about when PNU’s Mwai Kibaki was declared victor in the presidential poll and sworn in.
Cherang’any’s dark nights were flaming constantly, as maize fields, granaries and houses went up in flames.
Cherang’any has known no peace since then, as its residents – particularly those in the hilly areas bordering Marakwet and West Pokot districts – continue to cry.
One of the most definitive scenarios in the crisis has been the daily attacks in Sinyerere, Makutano, Suwerwa / Kachibora and such other wards of the constituency.
In Sinyerere, for instance, several well-armed attackers have been visiting in broad daylight, robbing, raping and maiming without fear and hurry; the provincial administration’s response has left much to be desired, both in timing and strength.
Sinyerere ward, as is indeed much of wider Cherang’any, is mixed in ethnicity – it therefore may be safely suggested that the insecurity in the area is no longer such as can be characterized as ethically targeted.
Responding to the security situation in the constituency therefore presents a daily change to everyone concerned, not least of all, Kuttuny, the new legislator.
He has to assuage the fears of some residents that they have more to fear under his tenure than they did before December 27th, 2007.
There will also be need for representatives of neighboring constituencies to be seen to be reining in livestock rustlers from their constituencies who, it would appear, are cashing in on the post-poll chaos and fears in the context of a largely out-numbered and strained police force.
There is need, too, for the provincial administration to be more pro-active in the area.
In the end, there will also be the need to clear once and for all just who won the 2007 presidential polls, as this is an issue still much passionately debated in this now fragile area.
In the meanwhile, a terrible hunger is already biting in one of the country’s bread-baskets.