In a major departure from his initial support for the establishment of military bases in the region, Mr Nanok now says President Uhuru Kenyatta should first address the issue of insecurity in the Eastern parts of the county.
“We had agreed as elected leaders to allocate land for the Kenya Defence Forces to set up military camps at various sites across the county. But as a result of rampant insecurity in Turkana East, we want the Commander-In-Chief of the Defence Forces of the Republic of Kenya to tell us the solution to insecurity in the larger Turkana before we give out the land,” said Governor Nanok.
In March 2017, the governor was part of negotiations that brought together local leaders and KDF officials, which he hailed as “the most consultative of all land acquisition processes”.
A high-level consultative meeting attended by officials from the Ministry of Defence, the Turkana County government and elected leaders, was held in Nairobi on April 8, 2019, where the matter of buying land to set up camps in Lokichar, Lokamarinyang, Lodwar, Lokichoggio and Kibish, was discussed.
Turkana County Secretary Peter Eripete said local leaders and Defence ministry representatives had done a reconnaissance survey to assess the suitability of the proposed sites in the county that borders Uganda, Ethiopia and South Sudan.
The reconnaissance visits, Mr Eripete disclosed, were attended by Colonel S.K Sane for the Kenya Air Force, Col. M.S. Mwacharo representing the Kenya Army and Lt. Col. A. B Ahmed of the Kenya Navy.
During these visits, the socio-economic and environmental impact of setting up the proposed bases, human settlements and grazing areas were also discussed.
A report prepared by the joint technical team captured details such as the sizes of the proposed camps and the exact locations, and was to be subjected to public participation before the land could be handed over to the Defence ministry.
However, Mr Nanok beat a hasty retreat on the military bases after insecurity heightened in Turkana East.
Three weeks ago, suspected bandits from neighbouring Pokot community attacked villagers, occasioning a humanitarian crisis as more than 2,000 families fled their homes.
The worst-hit villages were Lopii, Lokwamosing, Katanamak, Ng’achuro.
Residents fled with their livestock and settled at Kodekode in Lokori/Kochodin and Kang’irega in Katilu ward.
The attack prompted Mr Nanok to ask the President to assure Turkana residents of their security, noting that the bandits, besides killing and stealing livestock, had disrupted trade, healthcare, church services and learning in the region.
The governor blamed the security situation on premature halting of an operation launched in Tiaty, Baringo County, before all illegal firearms were mopped up.
The governor said the bandits were heavily armed, as they had managed to injure two police officers who were seeking to recover stolen livestock near Lopii village. The rustlers also damaged four police vehicles, including an armoured personnel carrier (APC).
“There are many guns in the hands of the bandits but the police officers here are ill-equipped to face them. We fear for more attacks on Kenyans in Laikipia West, Baringo South, Baringo North, Marakwet East, Turkana East and Turkana South sub-counties,” he said.
Petroleum Cabinet Secretary John Munyes, who also comes from the region, said the illegal arms mop-up operation, which was de-escalated on human rights grounds following a hue and cry from Pokot leaders, should resume with immediate effect.
“I will ask my Interior counterpart, Dr Fred Matiang’I, to order the resumption of the security operation so that we restore security along the border of Turkana and Pokot communities. The recent attacks have clearly showed there are still many people with illegal firearms,” the CS said.
He appealed to both communities to cooperate with security agencies by naming and shaming instigators of violence.
His remarks were echoed by members of Esenyait Group of elders.
“As long as we still have illegal firearms, we will continue to witness cattle raids and banditry. We only need legal guns in the hands of security officers,” the group’s spokesperson Wilson Kichumnagira said.
Mr Kichumnagira asked the government to invest in schools, terming cattle rustling a “barbaric and retrogressive culture that has only led to loss of innocent lives and hampered development due to insecurity”.
Mr Nicodemus Eguman, another elder, said disarmament should be carried out in Suguta Valley, Kapau Silale, Kasarani and Nadome villages, where bandits are capitalising on bad roads to terrorise villagers and security officers.
He said the criminals were well-organised and could be receiving training from somewhere.
Turkana leaders have always pointed a finger at their counterparts from Baringo County, who they accuse of seeking to kick Turkanas out of the border area so as to seize Kapedo and other villages that are rich in geothermal power and hot springs.
Ms Esther Ngibeyo, a resident of Kapedo, blamed insecurity in the region on too many illegal firearms among civilians in Pokot community, as well as the rugged and hilly landscape, which makes it difficult to apprehend the bandits.
“No one can dare venture out to fetch water alone. You have to move in a group and with security escort,” Ms Ngibeyo told the Nation.
Kapedo/Napeitom MCA Willy Nalimo said long ago, the village used to be attacked for livestock but residents stopped keeping large herds to avert raids.
Mr Nalimo also believes there are plans to forcibly displace Turkanas from Kapedo and Lomelo locations in what he termed a battle for the Kapedo hotsprings and Silale hills, where the Geothermal Development Authority is planning to set up thermal-electric facilities.
He said locals had ditched traditional pastoralism and embraced education and business activities after losing many lives, as evidenced by many graves in the expansive region.
A spot check by the Nation revealed most residents now keep less than 20 head of cattle. Most of these practise zero grazing following extensive training by World Vision and other organisations.
Another conspicuous change is that the traditional Manyattas are gradually fading out, with many permanent and semi-permanent houses coming up.
On average, households now keep 10 animals, mainly goats and sheep, which are often sold to raise cash for school fees, food and expansion of business.
The region is further plagued by a bandit-imposed 6pm to 6am curfew.
The locals, however, said if security is restored and all communities disarmed, education and business activities would help cement peaceful coexistence.
“The transport business can give me higher returns, just like many other vehicle owners, but highway bandits shoot at vehicles and set others ablaze,” said businessperson, Ms Achila explained.
The county government bears the heavy burden of ensuring those who fled their homes have food, water and access to health services. Through the department of Disaster Management, the devolved unit has distributed 58 metric tonnes of relief food comprising maize, beans and cooking oil to victims of bandit attacks in Turkana East sub-county.
An opinion leader from Turkana East, Mr Joram Ewoton, said locals near the border with Pokot community are still living in fear.
“The villagers don’t have firearms as they handed them over during the disarmament operation. Fearing for their security, some are moving to places that don’t have adequate pasture and water for their livestock,” Mr Ewoton said.