Kenya marathon­ers march against cat­tle rustling


John Ke­lai be­came a run­ner to es­cape a hard and dan­ger­ous life in north­ern Kenya, where three of his un­cles were killed in armed cat­tle raids when he was a teenager.

Now the 38-year-old top marathon run­ner has re­turned to lead a peace march, hop­ing to end cat­tle rustling and re­venge killings in Kenya’s re­mote and im­pov­er­ished north.

“We must come out to­gether and for­get our dif­fer­ences, our tribal lines, and speak out in one voice: enough is enough,” said Ke­lai, the 2010 Com­mon­wealth cham­pion.

Ri­val­ries be­tween pas­toral­ist com­mu­ni­ties com­pet­ing for scarce re­sources, such as live­stock and wa­ter, are wors­ened by easy ac­cess to au­to­matic weapons and the ab­sence of state se­cu­rity of­fi­cers. Ke­lai is or­ga­niz­ing the 836-kilo­me­ter (520-mile) peace march, with Ethiopian run­ning leg­end Haile Ge­brse­lassie ex­pected to join for the fi­nal stages of the walk, due to end on Aug. 6. Shout­ing “Amani! Amani!” — “peace” in Kenya’s Swahili lan­guage — Ke­lai and 30 of his trav­el­ing com­pan­ions ar­rived at the small dusty town of Kainuk, on the bor­der of Turkana and West Pokot dis­tricts, where deadly skir­mishes over live­stock have taken hun­dreds of lives in re­cent years.

Just two months ago, five Kenyan se­cu­rity of­fi­cers were mur­dered in a re­venge at­tack af­ter sev­eral Pokot herds­men were killed and their an­i­mals driven away in an am­bush by Turkana raiders. Ke­lai’s peace cru­sade hopes to draw at­ten­tion to this kind of vi­o­lence, and help end it.

The ath­letes, who are en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to join them in their walk, hope to raise over US$250,000 to fund a peace-build­ing pro­gram, said the Aegis Trust, which has worked to re­build com­mu­ni­ties riven by con­flict, no­tably in Rwanda af­ter the 1994 geno­cide.

Aegis Trust, which is help­ing or­ga­nize the walk, said the pro­gram “will en­gage at least 10,000 young peo­ple at risk of be­ing drawn into the eth­nic vi­o­lence, sav­ing lives.”

The call for peace ap­peared to res­onate well. Lo­cal of­fi­cials have pro­vided se­cu­rity and the ath­letes were wel­comed by more than 50 el­ders of the Pokot and Turkana com­mu­ni­ties when they ar­rived in Kainuk ear­lier this month.

“These mer­ci­less killings be­tween our own Kenyan broth­ers have con­tin­ued for too long. This is just mere stu­pid­ity,” said 80-year-old Pokot el­der, Matayo Che­mala, who trav­eled a long dis­tance from Kan­yarwit town on the Kenya-Uganda bor­der to wit­ness the oc­ca­sion.

Che­mala said that where he comes from, com­mu­ni­ties had ne­go­ti­ated peace, “and now we live hap­pily with each other and our an­i­mals can graze on both sides of the bor­der. Why can it not be the same among Kenyan blood broth­ers?” he said.

Turkana el­der Elim Okapel de­cided to join the ath­letes for their en­tire jour­ney. “It is now 48 years that we have preached peace and we have not got a rem­edy. We have de­cided walk­ing was the only so­lu­tion,” he said.

For Ke­lai, who lost both his par­ents as a child and then saw three of his un­cles killed in cat­tle raids, hope lies in the next gen­er­a­tion. He said ed­u­ca­tion could help them avoid the trap of cat­tle rustling as a way of life. Ke­lai com­pared mak­ing peace to striv­ing for a gold medal. “To achieve any pre­cious thing, you must pay a price so that you can be crowned. For peace to be re­al­ized and en­joyed in this re­gion, we must go that ex­tra mile,” he said.


A hand­out photo re­leased by Aegis Trust on July 14 shows for­mer New York marathon cham­pion Tegla Loroupe, cen­ter, hand­ing out a tro­phy and “Walk-forPeace” mer­chan­dise to a par­tic­i­pant as she and dou­ble Olympic gold medal­list Ezekiel Kem­boi, sec­ond left, and for­mer marathon record-holder Wil­son Kip­sang, third left, join other top Kenyan ath­letes in the “Walk-for-Peace” ini­tia­tive in Kenya’s re­mote and volatile north­west­ern re­gions no­to­ri­ous for deadly in­ter­com­mu­nity cat­tle rustling.

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