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Like all our wars, this too is about land

Like all our wars, this too is about land

Story by BERNARD KWALIA
Publication Date: 3/16/2008

In the wake of killings perpetrated by people suspected to be criminals, journalists covering Mt Elgon set out on a mission to establish the truth.

We set out one day in February last year to find out what was happening in the settlement scheme that had turned a battleground.
 
Residents were fleeing the disputed land and we wanted to find out whether schools were operational and what else had been disrupted by the violence.

Along the way, we ran into a group of youths who were carrying pangas. We identified ourselves as journalists. 

“How are you going to assist us? They have taken our land,” one of them asked.

Another said their leader wished to see us. Although we were uncertain of what lay ahead, we had little choice in the hands of these armed youths. This was at Banantega village on the edge of Mt Elgon forest in Kopsiro division.

We were led there and, within a short time, a man, who later identified himself as Wycliffe Matwakei, showed up in the company of six others. 

With a firearm

All the other six men were armed either with a firearm or a rungu and we thought that they must be his bodyguards.

It was at this press conference held in the forest that he identified the militia as the Sabaot Land Defence Force. At one point, he offered to show us the armoury he said they kept deep in the forest as long as we did not bring our cameras but we declined to go any further, fearing for our own lives.

From that day until the military operation began, they have kept frequent contact with the media, through a public relations officer named John Kanai.

On that day in the forest, he said the allocation of land in the Chepyuk Scheme Phase III was flawed. He said his people had been evicted and replaced with others for political reasons and their appeal to the provincial administration had fallen on deaf ears. He vowed they would defend “their rights” to death and that is why they were targeting people they believed were involved in the corruption. 

They planned to have their effects felt in the neighbouring larger Trans Nzoia and Bungoma districts. As part of their claim, they said elder Patrick Komol, who happens to be Mr Matwakei’s father, and laibon (spiritual leader) Jason Psongoiywo, had not been involved in the allotment of the 1,732 pieces, each of which measures two-and- a-half acres.

Mr Komol and Mr Matwakei were leaders of a delegation that visited then President Moi over the land question in 1989 and are said to be influential in the community. Their telephone contacts have gone dead since the military offensive against them began.

Moorland Defence Force

The Moorland Defence Force represents the Ndorobo interests. For years, the Ndorobo have armed themselves because they are a minority clan who say they need arms as a defence against possible aggression from stronger neighbours.

When the issue of Phase III went out of control and the SLDF militia denied them land in Phase III, the Ndorobo justified their defence because they had become the target. 

When they heard the SLDF had named themselves, they also found a name and established their base in Phase I of the settlement scheme where they are the majority. 

When things worsened, they started stealing livestock across the district. At some point, they were reported to have offered security to the immediate former MP John Serut when his fellow Soyi people started hunting him down. 

To date, Mr Serut is a hunted man who keeps a heavy police security detail. In the last two months, they are said to have established a base in Kaboiywo in Kaptma division near the border with Trans Nzoia. When the militia strike, they usually sell their animals in neighbouring Uganda.

This is the latest of the ragtag armies formed in September last year under a political banner and were active during the campaigns.

After the elections, the team was given the name Political Revenge Movement. They are said to have convened several meetings in Trans Nzoia and in the forest. They are blamed for the theft of livestock and robberies but their major cause is to counter the SLDF. There are people who identify with them but they have not come out like the SLDF did to publicly state their cause. 

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About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.

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