If you trawled the internet for information about Kapedo, the topmost searches will return all the unpleasant things – the Kapedo massacre, insecurity, police killings, conflicts and many others.
This is because the area has, over the years, been associated with bloodbath even gaining another title, ‘Kenya’s Darfur’ after the ambush and killing of 21 Administration Police officers who were on a mission to recover stolen cattle in 2014.
A visit to the area paints a different picture of the dry, dusty, deserted, bare and unproductive region as the internet portrays. Kapedo is like the biblical land of milk and honey, surrounded by a semi-desert.
The bad terrain has made it difficult for security officers to conduct operations in the area since vehicles can only be driven at 20kph or slower, exposing the officers to ambushes.
Violence in the region has been a subject of research and investigations, as the ripple effect of the animosity can be felt in Baringo, Turkana, West Pokot and Samburu and the entire country by extension.
The provincial administration, NGOs and the security agencies have not been able to stem the tide of violence.
“We have not really been able to single out the exact reason why people are fighting there, but we have been tackling the issue of insecurity using different strategies, including disarmament,” said Turkana county commissioner Wambua Muthama.
Cattle rustling has been blamed for the armed conflicts, but Rift Valley regional commissioner George Natembeya says the scramble for the Kapedo resources, the proliferation of firearms and politics cause the animosity among the communities there.
“The conflict is fuelled by political leaders who, from time to time, keep making careless and inciting remarks against the communities. They themselves approach one another with animosity and when killings happen, they do not condemn them,” Mr Natembeya said a day after the killing of GSU commandant, Superintendent Emadau Tabakol.
Mr Abakol, according to Mr Natembeya, had visited Kapedo to plan the installation of a peace base.
“Over time, I have learnt not to call these gunmen cattle rustlers because I do not believe they are motivated by stock theft. If they wanted animals, they would get them from areas with more, which is not so far from Kapedo. Kapedo is mainly a farming area with arable land and very few domestic animals,” he said.
Mr Natembeya believes that the conflicts are caused by communities aiming to drive each other out of the area by causing mayhem and fear, adding that the area has a huge economic potential.
Kapedo has a huge farming potential, with the Suguta River passing across it. The Kapedo waterfalls that merge with Suguta River also form a treasurable resource in the middle of the semi-desert.
At Napetakinyanga, the Suguta River stills to form pools with scenic sandy beaches and boom palms. This scenic area that is inhabited by birds and crocodiles attract a myriad of tourists with a high economic potential.
Geologists have in the past pointed out that the area surrounding it could have oil and geothermal power.
Already, the Geothermal Development Corporation is exploring the Korosi Geothermal Prospect, the second field in the Baringo-Silali Geothermal Project. The corporation had already drilled three exploration wells at Paka.
“Silali is the topmost area and it lies east of Kapedo. We have been doing our works here without any problem. The communities there have been helpful and we have also been conducting several Corporate Social Responsibility activities,” said GDC North Rift manager John Lagat.
The geothermal prospects promise to reward the communities with employment and development in the future, considering that it could also come with geo-tourism and mend the regions fragmented economy especially around the Silali caldera.
The caldera is a smoothly curved gigantic depression with a generally flat floor. It has been attracting both locals and international tourists interested in witnessing breathtaking natural beauty in the middle of the conventional wild north rift.
The caldera gives a good view point of the Silali ridge, Lorusio and Kapedo hot springs, Lake Kalnangi and the Akiloset hot spring, which drain its super alkaline fluids to the Suguta valley. A good view of the Katemining mini caldera and the endless faults and fissures can also be grasped.
All this beauty has been tainted by the constant violence in the region, and locals say had the area been peaceful, the economy of the region would be unmatched.
“Right now, even opening a shop is a problem. We have run out of stocks. We are surrounded by a lot of resources that are not helping us in anyway because of people who cannot just live in peace. All we see here are police men and police vehicles. Our children cannot even study,” a trader, Lucas Lokipuna says. He adds the raiders usually start firing at police vehicles or police stations just to make their presence known.
“Once they do that, you just need to flee because the next thing will be them coming to the houses to torch them. After some days, they will kill anyone who does not heed to their ‘evacuation orders’ which they impose through gunshots. Like last week, they killed a 76-year-old man, a woman and a child.
That was after they had destroyed houses in the villages,” Mr Lokipuna said.
The heavily armed gunmen waylaid a convoy of the slain GSU official, three MPs James Lomenen (Turkana South), Ali Lokiru (Turkana East) and John Lodepe Nakara (Turkana Central), four journalists and several professionals from Turkana South as they drove towards Chemolingot after distributing food to the people who had been evicted from homes and their houses torched. The legislators were evacuated yesterday.
“After the attack on the vehicles which were ahead of us, and just 7km from Kapedo, we had to return to Kapedo Centre and now we are just holed up in the GSU camp. We slept inside our vehicles,” MP Lomenen told the Saturday Nation on phone.
The ongoing standoff began 10 days ago, as gunmen believed to be from Tiaty constituency raided Kapedo, forcing security officers to evacuate four schools among them; Kapedo Primary, Kapedo Girls Primary, Lomelo Primary and Kapedo Secondary School. Schools in Lomelo have also been closed.
The Kapedo-Lomelo-Kainuk and the Kapedo-Chemolingot-Marigat roads have been rendered impassable due to insecurity and Mr Lokipuna says that the area stares at a humanitarian crisis as even shops have run out of food.
“There is a culture in that part of the country which seems to protect negative and criminal armament that disguises as cattle rustling but in reality, it is funded,” Dr Matiang’i said on Wednesday, as police officers launched an operation to flush out the gunmen.
A day after his remarks, Tiaty MP Kasait Kamket was arrested and detained at Kileleshwa Police Station.
Just last year, a disarmament exercises that awarded amnesty as an incentive was launched. Data from the Rift Valley Regional Commissioner’s office indicates that 20 serviceable guns – mostly AK-47 rifles were surrendered or recovered.
Mr Natembeya says the residents are still heavily armed, judging by the recent attacks on police officers.
“Twenty guns is just a drop in the ocean. The shooting on Sunday is a pointer that disarmament has not netted enough guns,” Mr Natembeya said.
“These people own up to five guns per family and in these disarmament exercises, they will surrender only one and most of the time, they will hand over a defective one as a smokescreen. If they can overpower a convoy of police officers in Armoured Personnel Carriers and kill or injure them, that tells you a lot,”
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