By Fred Biketi
Both the Purko and Keekonyokie clans lay claim to the vast Orpurkel range land in Kajiado West that has remained a recurrent flash point of violence between groups of herdsmen looking for pasture for many decades.
Most of the Keekonyokie herdsmen live in Ewuaso areas ofKajiado West and Narok East constituencies but move to Orpurkel with large herds of livestock where they erect makeshift paper made doomed structure temporary homes.
The same applies to the Purko who live in the neighbouring Mosiro ranch that stretches all the way from Oldepeto the Oldorko area which serves as the location headquarters of Mosiro ward.
Daniel Koikai, a businessman at Oldepe says it is always advisable to visit the area while accompanied by a local person to ensure that residents do not become hostile and harm you.
“We are deeply divided here because of the animosity over land for pasture. I’m Purko and the person carrying you on the motorbike Fredrick Kateina is a Keekonyokie, so you need to be very careful when you get to Oldepe,” said Koikai.
For security reasons, I had earlier contacted the area chief Solomon Sagelo who was waiting for us at Oldepe where he had gone to sensitize people on the Covid-19 general hygiene measures.
Being a market day, the chief was able to reach many people who go there to either buy or sell goats among other things and he therefore used the opportunity to ensure that they wash hands and observe social distancing.
Koikai said bloody fights between the two groups used to be a frequent occurrence until elders from the two sides met and agreed that the area remains free for grazing by herdsmen from both clans with no side laying claim to it.
Intermarriage between families from the two sides has also helped because herdsmen with blood ties from the clans can graze in a common area while protecting each other from moran raids.
That has however not completely ended the animosity because the Keekonyokie herdsmen do not venture deep into the area neighbouringMosiro while the Purko also avoid getting close to rival herders.
“The boundary dispute has been there for almost 15 years with clashes flaring sporadically when they chase herdsmen and their livestock but it was I think in 1999, when many people lost their lives,” said Kateina.
It is evident that many young boys from both clans do attend school and instead either go to the grazing grounds to look after their parents livestock or are employed by rich ranchers among them politicians who keep large herds in those fields.
Along the road we encountered a young boy Karatin Kibwali who should have been at home waiting for schools to reopen herding sheep and carrying a newly born kid as he drove the sheep to the holding ground in the woods.
He admitted that he dropped out of school when he was in class two and took up the responsibility of taking care of his father’s sheep, goats and cows.
He spends weeks in the grazing woodlands before going back to his home on a group ranch situated between Duka – Moja and Ntulele when another group takes over the herding role.
“We have people like County Assembly members and other influential people who own large herds of cattle, sheep and goats and only visit the herdsmen to see how they are faring or when they want to sell part of the stock,” said Sopa ole Kiloshi at Ilparakuo in Kajiado West.
The herdsmen also sell milk to motorcycle vendors known as bodaboda milkmen who traverse the area to get a litre for as low as Sh15 and later sell at the double the price.
Apart from one or two herdsmen you will spot in the shrub lands of Orpurkelafter covering several kilometers on the rugged earth road full of jutting rocks created by erosion and flush waters all you see are antelopes and zebras.
The wild animals look scared and keep speeding off every time they spot human beings probably because of reported poaching cases that were reported in the area in the past.
Without divulging much Kateina, speculated that the animals were probably scared because until last year people used to slaughter them and sell meat to butchers from Nairobi.
“As you can see, we do not have the Kenya Wildlife Service guards here, so it was easy to kill the animals but they arrested a few people who were involved and stopped that business at the time,” he said.
The Orpurkel rangelands are lush grasslands where the antelopes roam and shrub lands and woodlands that zebras prefer perhaps to camouflage themselves from poachers and disturbance from the herdsmen grazing livestock.
The area can also be classified as an Ostrich friendly savannacovered by many short acacia trees and thorn trees whose thorn twigs the herdsmen use to fence the kraals to livestock from hyena and livestock attacks.
Lesim ole Suruk a herdsman in Olodeem says wild animals including leopards fear the sharp thorns,which guarantees that the livestock remain safe at night, when the morans are asleep in the makeshift manyattas.
“The cows remain largely safe but we still lose quite a large number to hyenas because some are so daring that jump over the fence and kill the animals. Just the other day we lost a 200 kgs cow to hyenas,” said Suruk.
But how do the herdsmen themselves sleep in the midst of such dangerous animals because the makeshifts structures they use for shelter do not have doors.
He explains that the animals have developed some fear of the herdsmen because they are armed with spears and machettes and have in the past either killed or injured some.
They also leave the exit areas remain open at night to enable them quickly jump out when their animals are attacked or when they hear some commotion in the holding area, especially those where they keep young calves.
Ole Surum requested KWS officials to ensure that herdsmen who lose cows, goats and sheep are compensated because the area is not a gazetted game reserve.
He said the biggest problem they also face is the almost impassable roads, because they cannot get good market for their livestock and milk.