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Archers for Peace

Photographer: Dai Kurokawa

 

The majority of Pokot tribe boys in Alale, which borders Uganda to the west and Turkana County to the north, in West Pokot County, some 600km northwest of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, are unable to attend school due to their daily duty of cattle herding and their role in the community as 'warriors' to protect livestock from cattle rustlers of the neighboring Turkana tribe.

 

Dinah Hellen Chebitwey, a 52-year-old Early Childhood Education Program Officer of the West Pokot County, has for the last two years been teaching Pokot boys the game of archery in an attempt to transform their skills into means of peace-building. ‘These boys need to go to school instead of fighting and living in a fear that they might be killed by raiders from Turkana', says Chebitwey, citing a most recent cattle rustling case in this hamlet in which two teenage boys were brutally murdered just two weeks ago. Chebitwey hopes to engage her counterpart in Turkana to create a program where boys from two rival communities can compete in the game of archery to deepen exchanges and learn to embrace peace.

 

Cattle rustling has a long history in East Africa, involving pastoralists from regional countries such as Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Sudan. It has been culturally and traditionally practiced by pastoralist communities to replenish livestock lost during the dry season. However, in Kenya, it has been in recent years increasingly motivated by business interests and the competition for political power, according to analysts. In its 2014 report, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre of the Norwegian Refugee Council said that the cattle rustling 'has become a commercialized activity and industry', noting that 'the purposes of cattle raids are self-enrichment and commercial, and that businessmen and politicians are among the main beneficiaries'.

 

With the spread of illegal firearms in the region, the pastoralists in northern Kenya have increasingly become militarized in recent years, resulting in hundreds of people including women and children being killed each year.

 

On 24 September 2014, Kenya’s Standard newspaper reported that the leaders of the Turkana community urged the national government to step up the effort to end the violence between Pokot and Turkana communities. Turkana County Governor Josphat Nanok said ‘it is sad that the government and the international community have remained quiet despite our losses along the Pokot-Turkana corridor’, according to the newspaper.

 

Asked if she would like to see these boys represent Kenya in archery in the Olympic Games one day, Chebitwey answered smilingly, ‘that would be a dream come true’.