Groups of youths in West Pokot County are reaping big from new sources of income after abandoning cattle rustling that had defined their lives for ages.
The youths have invested in various businesses such as boda boda, rearing of poultry and crop production that are gradually transforming their livelihoods. Some have even decided to return to school to get education.
Among the beneficiaries of the culture change are members of the Chepareria-Nasikuta Free Initiative where more than 100 rehabilitated cattle rustlers have come together to venture into dairy farming. They have exchange the traditional long-horned cows for hybrid ones to enhance milk production and earn more income.
“The unrelenting cattle raids have earned the community a bad name and we need to discard it and diversify to other activities that will improve our living standards,” says Chetotum Lomadita, a former cattle rustler who used to traverse parts of the North Rift and Uganda stealing livestock.
He abandoned the malpractice after witnessing his colleagues fall under the hail of bullets fired by either their rivals or government security agents.
“Some of my age mates who went to school are financially stable after securing employment or starting income generating business, but look at me. I have to start from the scratch. But all is not lost and I am determined to make it in life like them,” says Mr Lomadita while appealing to youth who steal engage in cattle rustling to abandon the outdated practice.
Straight Generation Group is another entity made of 20 reformed warriors. They are now investing in boda boda business in Makutano Township and its environs. They generate an average of Sh400,000 monthly, which has transformed their socio-economic lives.
“The low capital investment in boda boda business coupled with its attractive returns is transforming the reformed warriors economically,” says Julius Karimoi, the group chairman.
He says the business is at its peak during electioneering period when they are hired by aspirants seeking various elective positions, earning them as high as Sh20,000 a day.
Most of the income generation groups belonging to the reformed warriors have received support from the county government and humanitarian agencies operating in the region.
The World Vision International has introduced drought-resistant pasture for their animals to discourage their members from practicing pastoralism and motivating them to permanently settle at one place so that they can be assisted better.
Also, several boreholes have been drilled by the government and humanitarian agencies operating in the county to provide reliable water supply for domestic use and animals to boost their income.
With reliable sources of income, the residents can now send their children, particularly girls, to school. Previously, they were marrying them off as a way of generating wealth.
“It is profitable running small business to generate income to educate my daughters instead of marrying them off,” confesses Moses Lorekau, 36, and a father of four who has enrolled his children in school after joining the group of reformed warriors.
Poultry project is another investment that has revolutionised the fortunes of the community.
“Education exchange programmes, academic tours and counselling have been introduced in most schools to encourage parents to take education of their children seriously,” says Caroline Menach, the principal of Saint Elizabeth Girls primary school in Pokot.
“Girls are viewed as source of wealth and high poverty level among most households force some of the parents to marry off their children instead of taking them to school,” notes Ms Menach.
“There is also a strong fear among some parents that educating girls will empower them to be independent and that is why they do not want them to acquire formal education.”
Academic standards in Pokot has also been boosted following the formation of Masol Peace and Development Initiative (MPDI), which promotes diversification of economic activities.
According to MPDI chairman Felix Puonyang, their objective is to approach conflict with a win-win-attitude especially on education matters.
“Cattle rustling has taken us nowhere and it needs to come to an end ...education is the key and as a community we need to invest in activities that will improve our living standards,” says Mr Puonyang.
Armed conflicts between members of the Turkana and Pokot communities over grazing fields and boundary disputes have affected smooth learning activities to more than 5,000 pupils.
The situation is however changing as residents diversify into other sources of income.