The Young Bandit. By Samwella Lerno

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Election Safari Program Correspondent At Siasa Place- Samburu County

“Banditry is not the business of children” said my father,” real men in this community do not kill children, it is a taboo, therefore no need for us to arm you – your brother will protect you” he continued. This is after nagging him for days to get me a gun like Sagumai’s – my elder brother. Sagumai had a sleek Soviet assault rifle, which he strapped on his back and walked like he was carrying a feather. I admired his poise and stature, a real fearless moran.

The year is 2000 and it was on the onset of what will be a severe drought in Northern Kenya, I was in class three but that morning I remained home to help Sagumai move deep into Malaso escarpment in search of pasture, where he would live until the drought subsides. At the crack of dawn we set out for a 100KM walk leaving behind our parents and Laanyu our eldest brother who was almost done with his secondary education, I was glad we left him at home because he was nothing like the rest of us, always sullen and sad – maybe people who read a lot are that sad, I never wanted to be like him.

Unfortunately, a few years later in 2004 I lost my brother Sagumai in a cattle-rustling incident and I had to drop out of school at class seven to take care of the family livestock. The government was doing massive disarmament to recover illegal firearms at the same time registering Kenya Police Reservists (KPR) Or ‘Home Guards’ who were given government guns. Luckily I was given a government gun, which was very heavy, slow in shooting and shot only at a close range.

I had to get another gun and procuring costs us two bulls. I had to buy a motorbike and a mobile phone to keep in touch with Laanyu who by now was the regional coordinator for a Non-Governmental Organization. My life was therefore more extravagant compared to my late brother’s, being half-literate and exposed to money that Laanyu sent often.

Since 2005 cattle rustling drastically took a different twist, it was more brutal and severe, children were killed and women raped, and massive displacement happened even in places that were initially peaceful. It was no longer about pasture or restocking after famine, the weapons used by the rival communities were sophisticated and handmade grenades were hulled into manyattas at night. It was evident then that politics, boundary disputes, land and other natural resources fuelled animosity among us – Northern Kenya was literally burning!

After almost a decade of bloodshed, my brother and other pastoralists’ professionals held endless meetings to seek ways of restoring normalcy, when they failed to agree – they turned to arm us the herders. Wednesday 14th December. 2016, my brother sent me Kshs 20,000, the highest amount of money he has ever sent, “You need to be ready for real war, buy yourself more bullets, these ‘boys’ are not backing down, there will be more retaliatory attacks than ever before, the intention is to displace our community so that we will not vote in the next election, they want mineral deposits that are in our land, they want to wipe us from the face of the earth, we realized their wealthy brothers including government officials are arming them, we should also do the same” he said and promised to come home soon.
That day I drove cattle home a bit earlier than usual, I had called my friends and we agreed to meet at our home. Around the fireplace in the middle of the manyatta surrounded by cows mooing and chewing cud I narrated to the fellow council of morans (we called ourselves a council, government, an army) what my brother had told me. We have more questions than answers; for example Tandori the tallest moran among us did not know what ‘minerals’ were neither did the rest of us, we kept wondering why we couldn’t see them . Nonetheless we were outraged that there were ‘boys’ ‘hyenas’ audacious enough to think they could drive us out of our land.

I can’t remember how long we sat there, but it was long enough to clean our guns and wait for more bullets to arrive with some morans we had sent. The next day we were prepared for the worsts, and actually the worst happened. The morans from the neighboring communities who we had initially even shared milk during our herding adventures were now trying to kill us. Actually the best word is that we were trying to kill each other. I now realized what my brother meant by ‘boys’ trying to displace us from our land.

The running, the panting, the hiding, tense moments, each second priceless, hunt or be hunted. I heard a sudden thud, the boy next to me has been shot on the head. His body lay lifeless next to me, he looked shocked even while dead, the scar on his head bleeding profusely; I had never seen a dead person. My mind flashed back to a few days ago, when his mum, my aunt sent him to us to borrow a lamb for soup. The shot of a gun interrupted my train of thought, back to battle; time to move on with the fight against these ‘Hyenas’, the loss of my cousin could not be in vain.

Suddenly, I felt a wave of anger rise in me. I was angry, to be honest I was furious; I channeled this energy and changed into a monster. All I wanted to do was revenge for the death of my cousin. I thought of every single clan member I had lost in these raids. I suddenly focused on a hat my sister’s son used to wear. He had died in one of these raids, a fight with the same tribe, and now the same people had taken my cousin. My nephew was not even a regular herder; he loved school, always with his books, always number one in class. It was usually very difficult getting him to take the cows to the dam as he always said he had homework. Now, he was gone. The ‘hyenas’ shot him in his back while he was running.

Drunk with anger and frustration, the gun in my hand just took its course. My mates would tell me later that I was merciless on the battleground. In my mind, the last thing I remember is a tiny pink shoe though torn apart it looked like my niece’s little shoes, blood drying, underneath a little girl is dying. But who cares, blood for blood, flesh for flesh. Next thing I Know, I wake up in a hospital bed with a bullet in my thigh. I remembered my cousin and then reassured myself that it was not over yet. I had found a best friend in my gun. I had to avenge my best friend.

Even bed ridden I still received money via M-Pesa from my brother and other well-meaning brothers who applaud me as a hero who fought the enemy singlehandedly, my brother later called to tell me he was attending a high profile meeting in Naivasha with other pastoralist’s elites trying to find a solution to the ‘Tradition of Cattle Rustling’. To be honest, I didn’t care. All I wanted now was avenge my family.

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