Driving from Kapsowar town of Marakwet County towards Tot area is a scene to behold, several rivers run from the mountains crossing the new tarmac road to retire in the Kerio Valley oblivious of the cars straining to keep their balance on the way curved out of a sharp gradient.
We had been cruising from Eldoret town towards Tot and it is approaching 8pm when our host in Tot calls and asks us to spend the night in Kapsowar because of the security situation on the road to Tot which is about 45 kilometers ahead.
In a group of 15 we huddle ourselves in a teachers sacco building with accommodation facilities in Kapsowar and take off at 5am and within no time we see the sun rising over the mountains from Pokot area in one of the most beautiful views I have ever seen. Between Kapsowar and Tot is a huge mountain and the road had to be dug around the mountain elongating the journey otherwise the road would be too steep. The valley downhill looks like a lake early morning as vapour yields to gravity from the cold mountains.
This beautiful valley is where most wars are fought between the Pokot and the Kalenjin people. It also provides pasture for the cattle since the mountains are too steep it would break their legs. It is October and the mountains and valleys are lush with vegetation and one wonders why people fight in a land where rivers are as common as the overhead electricity cables that power the area.
Due to the steep road, we notice that our front tyres of the rosa we are driving in are producing a lot of smoke from friction caused by constant breaking and we have to stop lest the heat turns into fire. We wonder around in the mountains taking pictures in river beds. Neighbours live far apart inhabiting high points of the mountains to the valley below leaving them with little support when cattle rustlers strike.
The noise of numerous waterfalls pervades the air and mangoe trees dot the land heavy with ripe fruit with farmers packing them for sale in Eldoret town. The mangoe trees are so abundant that strangers are allowed to climb and eat as along us they do not carry.
We arrive in Tot in the midday sun and the sight of cattle herders with one to two G3 rifles per person is surprising. Guns here go for as much as Sh100,000, people are not poor, they just don’t value cars or good houses but they can surely afford them. A bullet goes for Sh200 which is good business for gun runners.
Merchants trade in second hand clothes and food with sacks of mangoes going for Sh250. The mangoe season starts in September to December providing the natives with sufficient supply of fruit diet including oranges. The flat part of the land supports sorghum growing, maize, cowpeas, water melons and most of the crops you can think of. Furrows have been dug to distribute water from the big Embobut river.
This abundance is what brings the Pokot people here to look for food and fight during dry periods in the Pokot side of the area. They come for cattle and food. Despite resistance from the local Kalenjin, the Pokot seem to be good at it since they risk all to survive if you have watched Men on a leash.
Night falls on Tot
When nigh falls on Tot town, the sound of gunfire interrupts evening meals almost everyday, we had been sitting outside when the sound of guns rent the air forcing all of us to instinctively bend downwards. Everyone should be inside by 8pm we are told but we had been sitting outside the house discussing the day’s activities and planning for the next day as we await supper.
The presence of a GSU camp and Kenya Police Reservists has helped but not arrested the security problem. Passenger service vehicles must depart the area in a fleet in the morning to keep off the marauding gunmen on the way.
A church pastor tells of how a Pokot gunman stormed a Sunday service and fired in the air forcing everyone down on their bellies in fear. The man who was looking for his mother later left after the pastor told him his mother does not come to that church. Most of the church members are yet to come back several months later.
A bullet from the Pokot is said to have run through the ears of a PSV driver near the Tot police station before the occupants were saved by the area OCS, the bus is still there to date, and the stories go on. Students of Tot mixed High School which is 100 meters from Tot police station are used to the sound of gunfire in their compound at night. The deputy principle of the school asks if we heard the sound of guns yester-night saying it is normal adding that it was just a gesture or salute for the dead man who had been buried the previous afternoon. It is also a form of communication between the gun owners, one would fire in the air once or twice to alert others on the presence of the enemy.
The natives can tell the sound of Pokot guns from the sound of the neighbor’s gun perhaps showing how important a gun has become over the years in this land. The natives are extremely friendly and would readily share the little they have with visitors.
Sokobora and Seboro are among key shopping centers in Tot area and locals frequent there to sale their wares or buy food. Their sheep, goats and cattle are very healthy and good for meat. A new hospital has been built in the area but locals say it does not have drugs. One of the locals wonders why they built a mortuary when people rarely die in the area.
We were to travel there in May this year but inter-clan fights among the Kalenjin themselves made the area hostile and many lost their lives. These weakened them and the Pokot were reported to have said “let them finish their bullets then we shall come for them,” and they truly came for them with night fire.
We have to come back after two days and our hearts are torn between extending the stay or avoid the constant tension at night.