Kenyan Police Brutally Attack Samburu Maasai Community
“At first, the community thought the police were here to help us and ran out to greet them,” said Sammy Lepurdati, one of the villagers present during the attacks. “When they initially started shooting, everyone tried to convince them they were making a mistake, but instead the police kept circling the bomas in helicopters, firing deliberately at innocent people. It was a nightmare. People were screaming, running in every direction. Those who survived fled to the bush and nearby mountains.” The number of dead is not yet known because police are preventing outsiders from entering the area.
The government claims it was trying to flush out bandits and seize illegal guns used in cattle raids that are common in the area (and guns were in fact seized in other areas). But the particular cattle raid that prompted this series of attacks appears to have been staged. It was ostensibly committed by Somalis trying to reclaim cattle taken by the Samburu earlier. But the nature of the raid is atypical of Somalis, and the cattle in question were documented animals that had been donated to the villages by nonprofit organizations in the wake of the devastating drought of 2006. The government’s instantaneous and substantial response in such a remote area also calls the claimed motivation into question.
The more likely motive for the attacks appears to be a desire to clear out indigenous tribes to make way for burgeoning development in the area. The Chinese are funding a major highway through the area to allow transport of oil from their fields in Ethiopia to Kenya’s ports, and they have dramatically increasing trade with Kenya to $1 billion a year. Profits from poaching also may be involved. In the three weeks since the attacks, 57 elephants have been poached in the area (greater than the number taken in the country as a whole over the 12 months of 2007). China is the top market for illegal ivory, and the kickbacks from that trade may be prompting some Kenyan government officials to remove local environmental control. The Samburu maintain several wildlife conservancies in the area, and part of the police action included shutting all of them down and confiscating all communications equipment and anti-poaching gear. As bad as the attacks have been, for the Samburu the more devastating aspect will likely be the loss of their cattle, which are the basis of their culture and their economy. “Without milk from their cattle, the community members will die.” Dan Letoiya, Director of West Gate Wildlife Conservancy stated. “We are experiencing another severe drought and this is their only source of protein and liquid. The milk from their livestock makes up 90 percent of their dietary intake.”
Rosemary Lekali from Save the Children urged public government officials to intervene. “The Samburu are certain to perish from dehydration and starvation in the absence of their livestock,” she said. “Cattle not only represent their most important food reserve, but it is also their primary livelihood and currency. When a parent wishes to send a child to school, the bursary or tuition is paid with the sale of cattle. When a family member has to be hospitalized, a cow is sold. These livestock provide cultural and traditional ceremonial purposes as well, which Kenya should embrace and preserve as part of its cultural heritage.”
Survivors hiding in caves in nearby mountains have untreated life-threatening injuries from gunshot wounds, shrapnel, burns, and dehydration. In Kipsing, there has been a massive cholera out break. In the past two weeks 12 Samburu children, have died and over 380 persons have been treated with IV drips by a small team of volunteers. There have already been hundreds of other deaths cross the region from secondary causes in addition to all those who were killed in the attacks. Volunteers are expecting these numbers to rise as they locate displaced families and as people weaken and widespread famine takes hold. “Many of us,” says Letimelo, “feel as if the police are treating our district as a foreign country they are invading, not as their own citizens, which they are assigned to protect.”