NRT's communications officer Duncan Ndotono reports from the field.
In the vast breathtaking plains, dotted with assorted flora spices of northern Kenya, the torrential rain experienced in the past few months has come to an end.
The vegetation is lush. Young boys, girls, morans and women are grazing their livestock, from assorted goats and sheep and cattle.
It is a season of joyful abundance as well a time of caution and alertness. This is a period where 're-stocking' theft is rife - bandits who lost cattle during the drought seek to restock their herds with stolen animals. And on Thursday 10th May, Diwani Parkusaa discovers he's been the latest victim of rustling. His 28 head of cattle are nowhere to be seen.
Parkusaa, a part-time pastoralist and a full-time ranger of Il Ngwesi Community Conservancy is shocked. As an armed ranger, he was not expecting to fall victim to stock theft. But bandits work quickly, and brazenly. On the other side of the vast landscape, fifty kilometres from Lerongo, everyone is on high alert. A large herd of cattle have been spotted moving hurriedly to the east with unknown ‘herders’.
A few years ago, Parkusaa would have given up all hope of ever seeing his cattle again. But as conservancies work together to promote peace and tackle livestock theft, this narrative is changing.
On Monday, 14th, five days later, a group of elderly men gather under an acacia tree. The tree is a medium height shrub - a favourite species for impala and reticulated giraffe. And not too far from them, 28 head of cattle surrounded by rangers and the Kenya police are on standby. This is a handover ceremony.
The elders are welcomed by Waso West Chief Kaward Lekalkuli.
“Wazee habari yenu (Elders how are you), I will begin by thanking you for your efforts to champion for peace as elders of Waso West,” Lekalkuli begins. “I will also salute you for your efforts through your youths, women and children in the recovery of the herd of cattle we can see here,” he adds.
Westage Community Conservancy in Samburu County has on numerous occasions been a secure place to conduct handovers - nine have occurred here in recent months.
“Were it not for combined efforts of bordering community conservancies, the Kenya government through its administration and police wing and assistance from the Northern Rangelands Trust, we would not be seated here today to handover to Parkusaa his wealth,” Lekalkuli says.
Cattle in the north are a hot commodity. Top value livestock fetch sufficient sums of money for bandits at markets in Nairobi and further afield. They also serve as a key cornerstone for cultural bridal dowry - it is often a no-cattle-no-marriage scenario.
Working together, NRT, conservancy teams, the Kenya Police, county government and communities are helping reunite more stolen livestock with their rightful owners, and mitigate the potential for retaliation thefts and attacks.
“It is some of these cultural practices that are proving to be a hindrance in this day and age,” says Assistant County Commissioner Benards Onyango. "We ought to embrace newer practices. It is time we adopted more convenient ways of cattle keeping. And also it is time we allowed our young boys to go to school. No one can steal your education,” Onyango adds.
Indeed, conservancies are embarking on programmes to help nurture alternative businesses in communities, supported by NRT Trading and USAID. The Moran Economic Empowerment programme, for example, has seen 3.2 million Kenya shillings dedicated to Savings and Credit Cooperatives targeted at women and young men.
Despite the odds, Parkusaa’s cattle look healthy; he is among the many members of community conservancies who continues to embraced enhanced cattle keeping practices. Waso West Chief Lekalkuli takes back the stage Parkusaa’s face brightens, he seems to offload a barrage of thoughts he was holding on to.
“I have not so many words to say, but to thank all and to continue on the same spirit of striving for peaceful co-existence,” says Parkusaa.
Under the supervision of the OCS Archers Post, Simon Gitau and requisite paperwork is done, signed by a number of witnesses including the elders.
A closure of the meeting is called and an elder leads the prayer with a staccato tune calling unto to God for more peaceful co-existence.