Sarima a Ghost Town as Festivities Begin Next Door

On our second day in Loiyangalani, we take a little detour to a small village, Sarima, not too far off the shores of Lake Turkana . Our impromptu trip is based on curiosity triggered by news reports of a raid that occurred in Sarima just 2 weeks before the annual Lake Turkana Cultural Festival. Upon arrival at the airstrip, it is evident that security is tight with red beret officers in strategic spots around the town and in the site where the festivities happen. The security could also be attributed to the presence of local government officials to officiate the festivities.

View of the shores of Lake Turkana from the road. Copyright,FoLT.

We drive out of Loiyangalani town and towards the magnificent Lake Turkana, a sight to behold. One can never really get tired of this view. The Jade sea does feel like an oasis in the dessert sitting beside rugged, rocky and scarcely vegetated land. The scorching heat with temperatures exceeding 35 degrees centigrade make one even more aware of this dessert climate and forces us to keep the windows open despite the dust rising in our trail. Guiding us on this trip is a local activist, a young man who feels strongly about protecting the rights of his people, the Turkana, majority of whom are hardly educated enough to know what they are entitled to as citizens of this country.
He tells us of the secrecy and hush-hush that followed the recent attack on a village occupied predominantly by the Turkana community. As we try to understand the context behind the attack in which 5 were killed on the spot with about 15 injured. We find out that a 6th person died while undergoing treatment. En route to Sarima, we pass a stop-over where a gentleman dressed in a bright orange uniform waves his arms to stop us. The guard hands us a register book to sign as we move along. It’s a little strange as our guide tells us that this is the norm since those in charge of the Lake Turkana Wind Power project took over the land in a lease agreement with the Kenyan Government. The strange part is that the route we are using is also a gazetted government highway, one of the options for drivers driving to this destination from the Capital or passing through the Rift Valley. Now it is treated like a privately owned road.

Goats grazing on low-lying foothills in Loiyangalani. Copyright, FoLT.

Upon arrival in Sarima, the empty silence is eerie. For a traditional village in the Northern parts of Kenya, Sarima is rather large…most of the villages I’ve come by are quite small with up to ten homes or just a little above that…this, I’m told was just recently occupied by hundreds of people. The silence and emptiness is a result of villagers escaping to the other side of Loiyangalani in fear of their lives. The attack that had them moving away was launched at dawn and the victims were defenseless women and children.

Links with Lake Turkana Wind Power Project

The recent conflict in Sarima has been linked with compensation contention by residents. Our guide, whose name will remain anonymous let’s us in on a theory to explain the sudden and bloody violence. Loiyangalani is home to the grand Lake Turkana Wind Power project, this wind farm is highly financed and is predicted to be the largest single wind farm in sub-Saharan Africa, with investments to the tune of Ksh76 billion. Now this is obviously a heavily funded project and really admirable move towards renewable energy. One of the requirements of this wind power project is a huge acreage of land, 40,000 acres to be specific. All this land is located west of Marsabit county, which they have already acquired via the Kenyan Government on a lease.
The contention is really on compensation for the relocation of residents from their current location according to our source.

Allegedly, they were promised compensation and were to agree on terms but the local representatives were unbecoming with the information. A new village has already been constructed less than a hundred meters from their current location, though it is yet to be completed. The residents of Sarima, were to start moving to their new homes but refused to do so before they received their compensation. We walked into the new settlement and it is also very quiet, filled with partly and fully constructed thatch houses. It is rather disconcerting to realize that based on the new housing, their living standards don’t get to change much. One would expect more modern housing in place of the traditional make-shift thatch houses.

Traditional huts in Loiyangalani. Copyright, FoLT.

As we stroll into the new settlement, it’s obvious that there are still very few people who have moved in already. It could also be because the weekend’s festivities marking the beginning of the Lake Turkana Cultural Festival have began and majority of the people have moved towards the museum to attend. We come across a mud-house with metal sheet roof among the thatched ones and realize upon close inspection that it’s some kind of make-shift shop with occupants who we stop to greet. We walk ahead and spot a vehicle driving into the gate, go around and then leave. Seems like some kind of inspection.

A man who looks familiar, comes towards us as the cameraman we left behind approaches and asks who we are and what we are there for. Our guide explains that we are Journalists he is just showing around and we mean no harm. The man suddenly becomes aggressive asking us to leave and seeming to want to hit our guide. He claims that said guide is always trying to stir trouble and should just leave people alone. They almost get into a fight before a third man comes and stops them so we promptly leave.

Young boy standing in front of a village in the outskirts of Loiyangalani town. FoLT

On our way out, we meet the chief’s wife, walking back towards the new settlement with her daughter,the daughter looks between 10-12yrs old. We shake hands in greeting and get introduced. She speaks only in Ng’aturkana so the guides translates what she says to us. She is holding a 500ltr coke bottle filled with water and so is her daughter. We find out that they walked for miles to get water suitable for drinking. “At ‘the camp’ there is water but it is not fit for consumption.” she says  It’s a rather harsh life they live here in Marsabit, one of the poorest counties in the country. Basic rights such as access to safe drinking water are hard to come by and one can’t help but wonder how over 5 decades, the Kenyan government hasn’t ensured this basic human right for those people living in the frontiers.

We chat with the two for a short while before the chief shows up. He is a friendly, elderly man in uniform. With the high temperatures , you would think the regular chief’s uniform would be altered to suit different locations,but he doesn’t seem to mind. He updates us on the situation and tells us that the villagers who fled the violence are willing to return as soon as things calm down. As their leader he needs to stay around and make sure that happens. There are currently a few administrative police who have been sent to patrol the area and ensure no further attacks occur.

Some residents of Loiyangalani stand outside a run-down building in town. FoLT

We thank him for his time and wish them the best of luck, as we only can, and head back to where the festivities are ongoing. It is rather ironic that just a 30-minute drive away from the festivity something so tragic happened and nobody was talking about it in the town. We can only hope that action was being taken (behind the silence) to capture the raiders and ensure that justice is served for the lives lost in meaningless violence. On the rough and rugged road back, we fall silent in contemplation. It is sad to imagine that good fortune can come with such tragedy, when justice is not served to people, it is difficult to find peace. Peace is vital for humans to thrive, but a just society is also very important. Being aware of, and fighting for one’s rights is something that no one should shy away from, but sacrificing life should never be an option in the fight for justice and human rights.

If the information we were given is accurate, it is regretful that women and children died in what is purported to be a scheme to scare them by greedy people, who didn’t wish to give the residents of Sarima village what was rightfully theirs. It is indeed our hope that these allegations are countered with fact-driven information to make it all clear. The rights of all Kenyans are the same and no one, regardless of their social standing, education or level of awareness should be treated differently.

A woman and child stand by the Lakeside to view the beautiful, Lake Turkana sunset. Copyright, FoLT.

The people of Sarima deserve justice and they, along with Kenyans need answers that will ensure the end of this senseless violence. We hope to see a safe, more peaceful and even more developed Northern Kenya in the near future, the kind of peace that being close to the shores of Lake Turkana gives at sunset.

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