When raiders menace in northern Kenya, grab your guns

When raiders menace in northern Kenya, grab your guns

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First, the scouts saw a footprint, then a suspected spy from a rival ethnic group, scuttling off into the bush.

Expecting an attack, young men grabbed their guns and mothers grabbed their children - there are few state security forces in this remote area of northern Kenya.

. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic
Turkana warriors react after finding out that Nyangatom warriors are around their settlement.

The Ilemi Triangle, a disputed sliver of land along the border with Ethiopia and South Sudan, is the northernmost tip of Turkana, Kenya's poorest county.

A series of deadly clashes between the Turkana community and other ethnic groups that they said had crossed from South Sudan have put people on edge, to the point of posting lookouts.

. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic
A Turkana warrior drinks water from a swamp.

As in many regions across Africa, farmers and nomads frequently clash over limited resources, be it land, cattle or water. Cows and bulls are the most important currency here, not cash.

When danger looms, locals say the police are usually far away and neighbours are the only ones they can turn to.

. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic
A Turkana warrior passes by a scull of a Nyangatom warrior who, according to Turkana warriors, was killed when he and other Nyangatom warriors attacked a group of Turkana people to take their cattle.

In the Turkana community where I was staying, the danger was real. I saw seven or eight places scattered with skulls or bones with shredded clothing during the three weeks I spent in the region. There are a lot of wild animals so bodies left outside don't stay intact for long.

Kenya has found oil there, but while politicians in the capital Nairobi haggle over who gets the revenue, the discovery has had little effect on Turkana so far.

. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic
. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

Left: A Turkana warrior prays to gods after a cleansing ceremony as they found footprints of Nyangatom warriors around their settlement.
Right: Turkana Chief Eipa Choro raises his hand as he prays to gods.

Where I visited, families drink from the same muddy pools as their livestock. There are few schools - children instead help herd the precious cows to nearby watering holes.

Chief Eipa Choro, 74, said the community felt abandoned by the government; clean water from an aid group's borehole was two hours' drive away. The nearest police station took several hours to reach by road.

. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic
Turkana warriors react after finding out that Nyangatom warriors are around their settlement.

Nairobi says the county government is responsible for providing many important frontline services like health, early education and roads. The county government says Nairobi doesn't give it enough money to do so. While they argue, people suffer.

When it looked like an attack was imminent, some of the young men I witnessed seemed more excited than dismayed by the prospect of a clash with those they feared were after their livestock.

. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic
. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

Left: A Turkana warrior uses a bow and arrow to bleed a cow.
Right: A Turkana warrior bleeds a cow.

As part of their preparations, they slaughtered a bull then plunged their hands into its stomach to draw out the half-digested grass. They rubbed this over their heads and chests, part of their preparations to fight.

. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic
A Turkana warrior holds a gun as he protects cattle.

We weren't attacked during the time I spent with them, but each time we moved, the community sent out scouts to secure the way and try to spot potential ambushes from cattle raiders.

One of the most dangerous times was when they took the cows up to a watering hole right next to the border with Ethiopia. Cattle raiding parties sometimes attack and drive the herd deep into foreign territory.

. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic
A Turkana boy crawls as cows approach a settlement.

One day a shaman came to read the entrails of a goat. He predicted rain and fighting. The rain came, but no fighting.

Instead, news trickled in over scratchy phone lines that the group the men thought were targeting them had attacked another community nearby, carrying off around 600 animals. Reuters could not independently verify the incident.

. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic
Elderly man talk.

Such raids can be a disaster for a community. There's little money here. All serious transactions are done with livestock. Warrior Matthew Logel Matteze told me he had to pay his wife's family 16 cows and 60 goats to marry her.

Kenya and South Sudan have set up a joint commission to try to agree on the disputed border.

. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic
Turkana warriors react after finding out that Nyangatom warriors are around their settlement.

Mawien Makol, a spokesman for South Sudan's Foreign Ministry said the work might be finished by the end of the year.

Irene Akao Agum, a spokeswoman for Kenya's Attorney General's Office, said authorities were trying to gather information from both communities about the border.

My hosts want to stay in Kenya, but these days in the Ilemi Triangle, there is little peace.

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Slideshow

A Turkana woman carries a leg of a cow as she migrates with Turkana people to find water and grazing land for cattle.
. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

A Turkana woman carries a leg of a cow as she migrates with Turkana people to find water and grazing land for cattle.

Turkana people migrate to find water and grazing land for cattle.
. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

Turkana people migrate to find water and grazing land for cattle.

A girl leads donkeys as Turkana people migrate to find water and grazing land for cattle.
. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

A girl leads donkeys as Turkana people migrate to find water and grazing land for cattle.

A Turkana girl carries a small goat as she migrates with Turkana people to find water and grazing land for cattle.
. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

A Turkana girl carries a small goat as she migrates with Turkana people to find water and grazing land for cattle.

A Turkana boy drinks milk from a cow.
. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

A Turkana boy drinks milk from a cow.

A Turkana boy holds up his hand after drinking a cow blood.
. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

A Turkana boy holds up his hand after drinking a cow blood.

A Turkana warrior.
. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

A Turkana warrior.

Turkana warriors stand during a cleansing ceremony.
. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

Turkana warriors stand during a cleansing ceremony.

A Turkana warrior protects a group of men as one of them had sex with a woman before marriage.
. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

A Turkana warrior protects a group of men as one of them had sex with a woman before marriage.

A Turkana warrior shaves hair of his friend.
. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

A Turkana warrior shaves hair of his friend.

A member of a non-governmental organisation helps a sick Turkana man.
. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

A member of a non-governmental organisation helps a sick Turkana man.

A Turkana warrior poses for a photograph as he holds a scull of a Nyangatom warrior, who, according to Turkana warriors, was killed when he and other Nyangatom warriors attacked a group of Turkana people to take their cattle.
. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

A Turkana warrior poses for a photograph as he holds a scull of a Nyangatom warrior, who, according to Turkana warriors, was killed when he and other Nyangatom warriors attacked a group of Turkana people to take their cattle.

Turkana warriors stands with rifles after finding out that Nyangatom warriors are around their settlement.
. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

Turkana warriors stands with rifles after finding out that Nyangatom warriors are around their settlement.

A young Turkana warrior arrives with cattle.
. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

A young Turkana warrior arrives with cattle.

A Turkana boy approaches a settlement after taking care of cows.
. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

A Turkana boy approaches a settlement after taking care of cows.

A Turkana woman collects firewood for cooking.
. Ilemi Triangle, KENYA. Reuters/Goran Tomasevic

A Turkana woman collects firewood for cooking.