Stealing cows, my foot! Pokots want land, oil and gold

While cattle business is big and politicians, chiefs and cops are all in the gravy train, these people are aware of the goldmine in the neighbouring lands

It is no secret that the Pokot have a ragtag militia composed of merciless terrorists armed with lethal, illegal weapons.

Although the Tugens and Njemps are their latest target, other communities who neighbour them have always fallen victim over the years.

The general perception in the region is that this militia is probably armed and directed by rogue and local political leadership and that it is sworn to oath and blessed by their elders ‘Maji-Maji rebellion’ style to grant them spiritual protection during attacks.

They are locked in a murderous campaign and ambition to conquer their neighbours and subjugate them through displacement and impoverishment. Indeed, the Pokot militia is the military wing of this secretive, closed community.

To underscore how lethal and strong the militia is, recall how it has been deployed against the police and the military in the past with devastating consequences.

Truth be told, if there is an armed adversary the Kenyan policeman fears to face, it is the Pokot militia, a group for whom killing means nothing. They don’t value human life.

It is therefore safe to declare the Pokots as cattle-rustlers driven by a blind ambition for territorial expansion. If this is stereotyping, let anyone with a contrary opinion stand and be counted.

So, why are the Pokot belligerent and warlike? There are disparate issues at play. First, livestock. Livestock to the Pokot is life. It is to the Pokot what your career and the trappings of the fast lane life are to average middle-class Kenyans.

Livestock raids are as much a rite of passage as they are a way of life. When boys come of age, they have to conduct raids to prove and justify their manhood. If a Pokot man dies while rustling, he will go straight to ‘heaven’ because it is the ‘ultimate death.’

Two, bride price is paid in herds of livestock - nicely horned zebu or Borana cattle complete with a respectable, well-developed hump. The Pokot have no value for hybrids like Friesian or Ayrshire. And since young men don’t have their own, they turn on their hapless neighbours to meet those bride price targets.

Third, livestock is a measure and symbol of wealth. The more one has, the wealthier he is perceived to be. Pokots know no other god but their livestock. They love them, giving their choice bulls lofty names and composing riveting poetry in their praise.

A Pokot man singing in praise of his bulls is the quintessential proud African man. For the Pokot, image, social standing and pride as defined by livestock is what matters in the world. They will kill to attain that high level of self-actualisation without blinking.

Fourth, and this is probably why cattle rustling has become a deadly and high stakes game, livestock is big business. I mean, if you steal a cow and sell it for Sh20,000, the profit is astronomical because there was no capital in the first place.

Butchers from far and wide, politicians and other players like chiefs and their assistants could all be in the gravy train.

Considering that some stolen livestock were once recovered in an Eldoret slaughter house, the police, too, could be in the mix because you need to consider how tough it is to move 200 stolen animals over vast, desolate, open savanna without being detected.

It surely takes some ‘convenient looking the other way’ by those tasked with keeping things under wraps for such a feat to be pulled off.

But these livestock raids conveniently hide the territorial ambitions of the Pokot. Tellingly, while they don’t mind expanding and annexing other communities’ lands, West Pokot and Tiaty are exclusively Pokot ‘countries’ that are jealously guarded piece of real estate.

They are fortified worlds where no non-Pokots dare to visit, let alone move around without being “taken care of”, so to speak.

The Pokot sense of entitlement to what is neighbouring community’s territory is largely driven by perceived invincibility because they have illegal guns.

What is more, their elders shamelessly tell them the land they claim to be theirs today was acquired through bloodshed hence they have an obligation to the community to carry out their own forays and capture new territory. They then go ahead to bless them before and after raids.

Because of the incessant raids they conduct against other communities, they view strangers with suspicion and treat them as the enemy.

Pokot is probably the only place in Kenya that is strictly out of bounds even for government security agencies. The numerous policemen who have been killed by Pokot warriors are testimony to this.

The Pokots have made hardly-veiled attempts to hide their ambitious sojourns by claiming they are after pasture and water. But the killings have taken places even during the rainy season when water and pasture are in plenty.

In any case, if the Pokots weren’t interested in more land, why don’t they move out with their animals once the drought is over?

What most Kenyans may not know is that the whole of Pokot and neighbouring lands are rich in natural resources like limestone, diatomite, oil, gold and geothermal capacity. Above all, it is endowed with stunningly beautiful and pristine scenic landscapes.

It is a cultural thing among pastoral communities to extend their territory. Historically, Pokots did this for pasture and water, but today, the narrative is different. Earth minerals could be what are driving this desire to bring more land under control of the Pokots.

The writer is a businessman and social commentator based in Eldoret.