Kenya glossary


(KENYA 18)








local KANU Chairman




November 1996



Section 1
I am in Kopsiro division, and I am talking to Ben Letepo Psirmoi, who is a local leader holding the position of the locational KANU [Kenyan African National Union] chairman. Mr Ben Letepo Psirmoi, could you start by talking about your birth?
My full names are Ben Letepo Psirmoi. I was born on the second day of February 1938. I was born in Kapkateny location at a place known as Chebich and I grew up like the other children of the time. We used to keep cattle. I was looking after my father's cattle until the age of about 13, when I started going to school.

You say that you started going to school at the age of 13.
Yes, I started going to Kaptola Primary School in 1950. In 1953, I sat for the common entrance examination, then in 1954 I joined Kaptma Intermediate school. I did my KAPE in 1957. In 1958, I was employed as an untrained teacher in which I served in the same capacity in 1959 to 1960. In 1960, I was selected to join Kaimosi Teachers College, but I opted not to go there.

Why did you decide not to join the college and yet you had been given the chance?
I had already married. I was circumcised in 1958, soon after I left school, then I got married the following year, so I felt that that I was already a responsible man for I already had one child by my wife in 1960. I rejected the offer of being trained as a teacher because even the job opportunities for the poor were very free and open. I was just called by the chief when I was given the job of an administration police. I again abandoned this job soon after three years. Immediately after Independence, I picked up a job in the Ministry of Social Services as the locational C.D.A.(Common Development Advisor) . By that time, the present Mount Elgon district was only a location that was covered all the way from Kaptama, Kpsokwony, Cheptais up to here in Kopsiro.

How was the location called by then?
It was called Elgon location, which is now subdivided into 8 locations. So I was trained at K.I.A for one year. In 1965, I came here where I worked as the C.D.A up to 1969. In 1969, I opted to resign and I joined politics, where I was elected as the counsellor and served throughout the period of 1969 to 1979.

That is a period of ten years.
Yes, a period of ten years. After that, in 1983, I did not compete for any position because at that time, I had four of my children in secondary school and I felt that I would be interfering with their education because as you know, politics is an expensive game. So in 1988, after my children had completed school, I decided to run for a parliamentary seat, which I did not make. I also ran for parliament in 1992.
Section 2
Why did you opt to run for parliament in 1988 and 1992? What was this that prompted you to take this decision?
First, I saw that the people of Mount Elgon were not properly represented since 1979 especially the people of Kopsiro, where we are actually the majority in Mount Elgon district and also the size of Kopsiro is larger than any other division of Mount Elgon. Among the four divisions of Mount Elgon, Kopsiro has 88 sq. km, followed by Kaptama, which has an area of 66sq. km. Cheptais has and Kapsokwony is the last with 57 sq. km. But in population, Kopsiro division leads with 45,518 people, Kapatam 25,081, Kapsokwony 23,852, Cheptais 28,149 people.

That is according to which census?
That is according to 1966 projection of the 1979 census and when we come to the development now, you will find that Kopsiro is number last. We do not have a government secondary school, we do not have a government hospital, we do not have piped water, we do not have electricity, we do not have a post not even a telephone or postal services. You have to travel to Kapsokwony or Cheptais if not Kimilili and Chwele, which are in Bungoma district. So some of these things, made me feel that the people of Kopsiro were not properly represented so I had to come out myself and represent them.

According to you, who are the agents of development?
The leaders should be the agents of development. The leaders have been chosen by the people to represent them in various organs of government. They are meant to identify the people's problems and then seek for the best possible way to overcome them.

If we could go a little bit back to the time when you were circumcised, how was this carried out and what was attributed to this?
For circumcision, at the time, it was up to the young man or girl to prove to the parents that one was fit for circumcision. To start, the youth would group themselves every evening, then they would start singing songs that would send a message to their parents that they were ready to undergo this kind of initiation.

What kind of songs were they singing? Do you remember them?
I remember quite a number of them.

Could you sing one of them? Some stanzas at least, so that we could get the message.
I am not very good at them but I can just try. You know in the olden days, things have changed quite a lot. Particularly these traditional songs have been very much diluted. In most of them, some Swahili words have been brought in and the imitations are also coordinated to individuals, while in the past the message was directed to the youth to understand why they were to be circumcised, and to know that they were to be circumcised, and to know that they are now ending their youth, their childhood being changed to adulthood. Well, one of the songs goes like this “Elijah wee, oo ye, ouu, Elijah motungarina aah!”

Section 3
What message is now conveyed in that song?
There was a man in the past by the name Elijah and this man was a great man. One of those elderly persons that I think according to the message were the first people to start the circumcision ceremonies.

So what were the youth referring to when they were singing this song?
They are referring to the origin of circumcision . They are saying it came from Elijah.

How did the people prepare for this event?
The preparations would start even a year before the day of circumcision. This was because it would involve a lot of pombe (alcohol) up to the time of even ten bags of maize. It was started when somebody had known that he was going to be circumcised, he had to plant maize, wimbi (finger millet), and he had to buy or prepare an animal because in the ceremonies you had to slaughter a big animal.

What kind of animal was required?
Particularly, it had to be bull.

Is it both in the female and male circumcision where a bull had to be slaughtered?
Exactly, it is the same. With us the Sabaot during the circumcision, whether it was for a girl or a boy, you both have to face it early in the morning completely naked. In the morning you are taken to the river, you are washed, then you come all alone facing your own fate in front of thousands of people, irrespective of whether they are your mothers, in-laws and all those.

A day or two before the actual event, what were the preparations made especially by the initiates to prepare them for this ordeal that you called fate?
Actually, in the olden days, it was all nothing but torture because I remember very well, the youth were to be tortured so that they could prove that they were really capable to go and face the knife. Part of the torture was that they go and get fire and they would start burning your fingertips, your toes and also sometimes, especially in the days earlier before I was circumcised, they would light fire and you would sit on the burning charcoal and singe your buttocks. It was a kind of torture to show that you were really capable and that you were ready to face the knife in the morning, even to marry or to be married. If you were a girl, it was almost impossible.

You are considered community disgrace.
You are considered a social disgrace, a coward yeah.

Other than the torture, what kind of education was given to these initiates?
Now after the circumcision, the initiates would be kept in seclusion, separate from the house, where not everybody was allowed to go there, apart from one person, a special person who had been selected to be training the youth now in that stage. They could be divided into two. There would be one for the female and one for the male, so that the male would be educating the youth on the male role. The female would educate the female youth on how one could become a useful woman in the community and also how to take care of themselves as girls. Not to give themselves out to boys that is before they got married, and also the male would be taught on how to be brave enough to protect the family. If any war broke out, even when famine came, you had to prove that you were a man and protect your family. You should be very capable of defending your family when anything comes.
Section 4
How did the community identify the different roles of men and women?
There were community accepted roles for both the female and the male. Well for the men, in the home, the circumcised boys would make sure they were the ones who were grazing the animals, because the most important thing at that time was the keeping of animals. Or if there were beehives, these were the people to make sure they were put in specific areas, and the honey harvesting was done by them. And when there was any type of a fight within the family, these were the people to be called upon. And then because there was no education, mostly at that time, except for a few areas for example this place of Kopsiro, the light of education did not come early, except that some of the areas that were exposed to the missionaries had the light of education much earlier. But even though, the light was very slow to this end of Mount Elgon. Now on the girls’ side, they were also trained on how to keep the house clean and tidy. We used to have a lot of kibuyus (buckets), and they were taught how to clean them, how to milk animals and how to keep that milk and how to cook, and how to take care of children, for this was there responsibility.

When you look back to the days of your youth, this ritual of circumcision and the present circumcision, is it any different from the past?
The tradition is not adhered to like in the past, because in the past, if you found somebody who was to be circumcised in the hospital, he was considered a social disgrace to the community. But presently because of the church’s education it is not being looked as a taboo. It has been accepted in some areas. Also, you find that even some people are being circumcised now without much cost to the family, there is not much beer brewing, not much celebration because of schooling.

What is your own view of the significance of circumcision in your time and present day circumcision?
During our time, there was a lot of respect amongst members of the same age group. For example, ours was very strict. If say, I was circumcised with you, I would respect (treat) your children just like my very own. And this was the age group of around ten years, since the first person of that age group was circumcised. So you would marry a daughter of any of the members of your age group, of all the people who were circumcised within the ten-year period.
But these days, things have changed. People do not take it seriously and also, it is actually both sides, the men and the women. You would find the children do not respect these people as their fathers or mothers as it was in the past. And then also, during our time, drinking of beer was not allowed for the youth, but these days...and we used to respect our parents quite a lot, what a parent would say, you could really understand it and take it seriously. But these days, things have changed. You even find some parents that have deviated from their responsibility, because when they see their children have learned more than themselves, they tend to respect the children and even address them as Mzee and yet these are just their children.
Section 5
So in the past, the parents mentioned their respect and were respected, irrespective of what position you had. If you were younger you had to respect them.

What followed after circumcision?
After circumcision, in the past, people used not to marry immediately, they had to stay and sometimes not for all, others had to prove that they were ready to marry.

How could they prove that they were to marry?
They would prove this by going out to another tribe where they would steal animals in which case they had to fight and bring the animals to the home.

Was this cattle rustling?
So, there was cattle rustling. After that and you had proved your bravery, is when you would have shown that you are capable of marrying.

So, that was a prerequisite that one had to get animals through rustling to be able to marry?
It was not really that it had to be so. But if one was able to do so, you could be given great respect in the community. Marriage those days would also be decided by the parents. For example, I would decide for my son, if I knew somebody’s daughter from the family that we have been marrying. You know we could go back to a long history. There are certain families we would not allow our youth to marry into.

Which kind of families could you not marry from?
Say a family suspected of practising witchcraft, or a family suspected to have certain types of diseases like epilepsy, madness or if somebody from that family had killed a person from your clan, it was a taboo to marry from such clans. So you could choose for yourself and tell you son, I would like you to marry from this family or you could even go and negotiate with the parents of the girl without even the knowledge of the girl. If the parents consented, then they would then inform the girl that “such and such a family has come and we have decided that you will be married to their son”...and that could be done.

So what the parents decided was final and their sons or daughters had no say in such situations?
Yes, that would be final and there was a lot of marriage by force in those days.

Now that it has been decided that the marriage was due, what procedure was followed?
After the parents had agreed, the son would organise a kind of ceremony where they would get some kind of foods, which would include beer. Wheat would be carried to the family of that girl, so those people could feed on those to prove to the family of this girl that the people wanted their girl. After that had been done, there then would be arranged an agreement on when the girl would be taken if she were willing. The girl could then be taken to the home and from that day, the family of the man would organise for a ceremony for the girl’s family to come and feed. Then the girl would be taken to the husband. If the girl would know there were incidents where the girl would not agree, despite the fact that the parents had agreed. So both the families would arrange when the girl could be taken by force to the husband’s place.
Section 6
Were there any concessions made?
The concessions here normally to the Sabaot were actually made in kind of payment of dowry but not before marriage. It was only that at the time of marriage some things were given to the girl’s family as a form of introduction but otherwise, the actual dowry could be paid after at least the couple had had one or two or three children, even up to four. This was when the family of the man would brew a lot of beer, invite the parents of the girl, an animal would be killed and then people would sit down and discuss the original dowry which had been arranged. We started with three cows, it has come up to six animals and presently there are twelve. These days a lot of money is demanded on top of the animals. Like the most recent case of the highest dowry payment, which has broken the history in Sabaot society, is the case of the local chief, where it was agreed that his son was to pay Kshs 100,000 on top of the twelve cows he paid as dowry.

What has led to these changes in marriage and dowry payment?
The influence of western civilisation on our culture has eroded the cultural norms and taboos. For example, [in] the present economy, where children attend school, the parents expect a lot in terms of cash to compensate for the money they used to educate their girl children.
Another issue is that it has become very expensive to pay for dowry and you will find that many families these days do not even receive anything. But it is only a few families that do not receive anything who have their children staying in peace. Otherwise, due to the dowry being expensive, many families have ended up in wrangles. The parents of the girls suing the man in court claiming they want this or that, causing problems that have even led to divorce, by parents claiming that they do not want their daughter to be married to this man because they haven’t been given anything.
Another issue is that the two people wanting to marry have to choose themselves. The parents do not have as much of a say as in the past. For people meet even far away from home, for example staying in towns outside their homes, they meet, decide to marry even without involving their parents.

What qualities were necessary according to the people of your time, on choosing a lady for marriage?
Actually, people were looking for a well-mannered girl, which actually you could not know until you stayed with her, because when the girl was still in her home, she would show you all her best qualities. Specifically, what was looked for was what kind of family the girl came from, for we believed that if the family was good, the girl would also be good. Unlike presently when one looks for good education...And you know also in the past, it was difficult or unacceptable for a man to go about with a girl so that you could have enough time to talk to her, know her...she would also get to know you. Time or space between the actual marriage was very short. So, there was not much courtship as there is in the present age.
Section 7
How did the society define the role of a husband and that of a wife?
What is expected of a man after he gets married, is that he has already moved away from his parents, as he is now expected to start bringing up his own family. More specifically, during our time, there was plenty of land, so your parents would give you your own share of the land, giving you a share of the animals, and then you could start your own life depending entirely on yourself. Except that you could still be part of the family when it came to problems, say for example if members of the family were poor and they could not support themselves. So that in times of need, you would be required to come and assist the family.
The lady could no longer be directly responsible to her family. She was not a part and parcel of her new home. She had very little to do with her family now, even for example if she was a hardworking woman. Perhaps she would cultivate some portion of land and buy a cow or sheep. This could not be claimed by her former family. So the lady was the property of the husband and the community where she was married.

What is your perception as a Sabaot on the changing institution of marriage?
Up to now, not much has changed as far as I am concerned in relation to the position and responsibility of the woman in the family. The Sabaot still, up to date, see a woman as the property of the husband, because up to date even if a woman works, her salary is the property of her husband. It is up to the husband to plan with it. Even if she buys an animal or land, all this is still the property of her husband. We still have a majority of instances where a husband passes away, and his wife has a man from the same clan to take care of her.

So wife inheritance is an accepted practice among the Sabaot.
Exactly, it is very much accepted here.

What are the trends of wife inheritance, by that I mean is it on the increase or it is decreasing?
It is decreasing but at a very slow pace.

What was expected of the man taking over the deceased wife?
You were to continue with all the services of the deceased. First to take care of the children, secondly to have more children being born through this woman.

About this practice of inheritance, are you seeing any differences in terms of the services or obligations of the man inheriting the deceased wife?
It has changed quite a lot. In the past people were serious, they would take the responsibility and you would find the family of the deceased standing firm as if the owner was still alive. But today, things have changed such that first, there is poverty and because of poverty the same man who has been given the responsibility to run the family of the deceased has now taken an extra role in his immediate family and abandoned the obligations to the deceased family.
Secondly, there are also women...women these days have also changed very much. They hate the idea of having their men marrying more than one wife. In the case of a man now inheriting a wife of his brother, there are some women who have overpowered their husbands so much that even if a man is told by the family that he is going to be responsible for his brother's family, [his wife won’t allow him]. Where a woman has overpowered her husband, widows have suffered a great deal.
Section 8
I gather from you that polygamy was practised in your community in a large scale. Is the trend still continuing?
It is dying off because land has been reduced. People are increasing and the land is not increasing, and secondly, because land is decreasing, poverty is increasing and now because poverty is increasing, people are coming with the idea of having one wife. Even with one wife, people have started to do family planning.

Now that you have brought out the issue of family planning, what is the general attitude of the Sabaot on family planning?
Actually few people are practising this. Here the population is still low (uneducated). We still have a majority of people who have not gone to school, or who went to school up to class seven or even below. Most of those ones because they do not see much (not opened minded), still support having more than one wife. But those who have been enlightened have changed and they are changing very fast.

There is a talk seeping across that the Sabaot do not want family planning. That they want to multiply, so that they can be a greater number, so that they can stand for themselves against the other communities that surround them.
That talk was there in 1963. In 1963, we got the constituency of Mount Elgon and this was through a lot of difficulties. Our brothers, fellow Bukusu who happened to be our neighbours here, had really dominated us over the years, so much that it was even difficult for them to accept us, you know to accept that we were existing. They would not recognise us. So I remember we clashed with them in 1963, and it is during that time that the politicians went round telling people that they should marry more than one wife. So these politicians at this time allowed all these things to happen, insisting that we should enlarge our numbers by all means. By that time, morality went low but the elders started moving away from that influence little by little, up till recently, when we again clashed with the Bukusu in the years 1991 – 1992. Some people still say that we should increase, that we should not practise family planning, but it is really not working. It is only something that people discuss when they are a bit annoyed and if anger is not there, it is never mentioned.

If we can look back to the time when the missionaries came to Kenya, what was their impact on the people of Mount Elgon?
First of all, the missionaries did not indeed reach this area. The furthest point where the Europeans reached was Lugulu and Malakisi and Chesamisi. So you can see this was a bit far from Mount Elgon. It did not have much effect on us. In the early 20s to 1948, when there was this Din Yak Msambwa.
Section 9
What was this Din Yak Msambwa?
Din Yak Msambwa actually, we could not understand it very well because in the first place, it was supposed to be a religion but instead of it being a religious sect, it used to play a lot in politics. For example, the DinYak Msambwa was the first organisation in the western province here to confront the whites. I specifically remember the year 1948, so many people killed in Malakisi were resisting the coming of the Europeans to the country. But otherwise it was between 1948 – 1952 that is when we had some people from Mount Elgon who joined KAU, which led to the formation of Mau Mau. These people included my father Mzee Andrew Ombete. He was the treasurer of KAU at that time. He used to collect money from this end and take it to Eluid Mathu, who was the national treasurer for KAU. There was Suleiman Kapkwota in Cheptais who was the Chairman KAU in western Kenya. He is the father of Justice John Mbito. There is another old man, he is still alive he is called William Matete and one of them passed away who was from Kaptama, and his name was Raphael Chepkoech. Those are some of the people who were the first to bring the politics of liberation to this side of Mount Elgon because they sided with the Din Yak Msambwa and the Kenya African union. These are the people who initiated the fight for Independence.

This bringing of ideas about the freedom struggle, how did this affect the people of Mount Elgon?
This to me seems like it was not much noticed. It made no much impact on the people. Because first of all these people were not even organising people inside here. Mainly, they were going outside, and when they came back, they would come with information and not many people would give them money. It is only some few individuals and these people targeted on some friends and particularly age-mates, people that they grew up with. So, it did not have a lot of impact on the majority of the people although people knew of these people, people viewed them as the wrong people in the community.

The late president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was arranged and detained in Kapenguria which is just a short distance from here. Did any information about him filter to this side and if it did how was it received?
People were told that only as history but I do not think anybody went to Kapenguria apart from maybe the people who I have already mentioned. Not only that, but even Kenyatta came to Chwele one time and organised a very big rally in 1950s. In fact, before October, before he was imprisoned he was in Chwele here and I remember it very well. My father had bought a lorry at that time, so he was transported on my father’s lorry to a certain chief’s home, the late chief Henry Kerri. The wife of Henry Kerri was a Kikuyu, so Kenyatta was taken to his home. But remember also, that at that time, a chief was supposed to be against Mau Mau. But then this Kerri had to host Kenyatta in his home, despite of being an employee of the colonial government. The chef was fired and he lost his job.

Now that we have realised that not much liberation activities from the colonial government took place here. How did the people receive the news of self-government when Kenyatta was allowed to form the government?
In 1963, the people realised that those who had involved themselves in the freedom struggle had done the right thing. The coming of Independence was welcomed by everybody and that was the time Kenyatta was really recognised as a hero. That is why the people of Mount Elgon, from 1963 to date, have never moved to another party. Good enough also, Kenyatta recognised us as a people. Though we were the minority, during his first cabinet in 1963, he chose our MP the late Hon. Daniel Moss as an Assistant Minister and throughout his government until he passed away, we were never out of his government. Luckily enough, our current president has also followed the same footsteps. We have never lost office since Independence.
Section 10
After the whites relinquished their hold on power and Kenyatta formed the government, he chose MP as Assistant minister. What impact did this have in terms of development on this Mount Elgon region?
I must be very sincere. I have to say that from 1979, we lost quite a lot. All the development that you see in Mount Elgon today and I can quote Kaptama Secondary School, Kapsokwony Secondary School, Kibuk, Cheptais, all the secondary schools we have here today, were all built during the time of the late Daniel Moss. During the late Moss time, if you see our roads today, you would think, their have never been roads here before, but I want to assure you that during the time of Moss, buses, Mawingo buses used to come to this market of Toiywandet. We used to catch buses when travelling just here. Lorries used to come up to Chebiuk, the DAF type of lorries of the Kenya National Youth Service to carry maize from Chebiuk centre. The roads were good although the place is hilly, the roads at that time were murram, and they were all the time being reconditioned.
But since 1979 to date, the type of politics has changed a lot. What happened is that when the present MP took over, we had only two chiefs one for Cheptais Division and one for the present three divisions Kopsiro, Kapsokwony and Kaptama. Now, what the new MP has done is to see that we have more locations, which we now have. Unfortunately, because he is the man in power, most of the chiefs were employed during his time, and they have tended to be loyal to him. So that every time, especially when KANU was the only party, there used to be a lot of rigging to get this man back to parliament, otherwise he should have been thrown out.
Recently, in 1992, we made a mistake ourselves, we contested too many of us, and that [gave] him a chance to get through, although he also imported some people from Transzoia district. I know very well that 1,071 people were imported. I got that information and because of the president, we had appealed and the elections were to be repeated [under] the queuing system. We had sufficient ground to have a repeat of the elections because the elections were soon going to take place and we were going to face stiff opposition from the opposition parties. So we were told, “Let this man go”. We were promised that we will be given a nominated MP and that is why we have Moiben as a nominated MP from Mount Elgon.

Are you implying that development has stagnated since 1979? Do you mean that no other development projects have been initiated all this time?
The only development we have seen is the building of Kapsokwony as a district headquarters. Otherwise, all the new locations, of which there number eight, have no offices. All our chiefs work in either rented shop houses or rental houses because of the fact that the office of the chief of Cheptais was taken over by the Divisional offices, this one that we tried to construct by harambee (joint self-help initiative/ pulling together), the D.O, has taken over. The office of the former chief of Elgon location has been taken over by the district headquarters and those are the only locations where the chief had offices. So chiefs have no offices now. So actually, there has been no development since 1979, no water, I think electricity has come to Kapsokwony and Kisiero can prestige himself for that, but otherwise, all other divisions have gained nothing from his leadership.
Section 11
Are there no government projects in Mount Elgon?
No, there was this Kopsiro dispensary. This was a government project. This was to be a health centre type one...that was the physical plan. We were given. Later on, when we were still in Bungoma district the plan was sabotaged so that what was built here is a dispensary instead of a health centre type one. All this was done in the presence of the present MP. The unit that was supposed to be built was built somewhere in Kimaiyet in Bungoma district. We saw this, but there is nothing we could do about it.

What was the perception and impact of multiparty to the people of Mount Elgon?
As I told you, the people have never moved from KANU despite the fact that we benefited very little from KANU. If there were any people to move out of KANU, it is supposed to be the people of Mount Elgon. I think we had to remain in KANU two reasons. One we look at the president as our man. He is our man from our own blood. Two, this elevation of Mount Elgon into a sub-district was done by him. We believe he has saved us a great deal even if he has not done other things. Because he is our man, we expect that he will do more before or perhaps before he leaves the job. Otherwise, this underdevelopment is really entering the hearts of the people and we are having an infiltration of political parties in opposition in Mount Elgon. For example, we have people for D.P and people for FORD Kenya. But still, they are not making any impact.

As a leader, of Kopsiro division, what do you attribute the underdevelopment of this reason to?
First, I attribute this to disunity among the people of Mount Elgon. People of Mount Elgon are very disunited. First, because of this Chebiuk settlement. The government settled people in Chebiuk in 1971. These were the Ndorobo who were moved from Chepkitale, which was in the Mount Elgon forest up the mountain. The same government in 1989 revoked the settlement and started resettling people afresh.

Why do you think the government did this?
The reason is that the beneficiaries of the settlement were from these three groups. One was a special group from Chepkitale, that is the group of the Ndorobo, who were moved from their ancestral land just because, in that place they had been surrounded with wild life, and the climate for that area does not allow the growth of food and cash crops. So these people mainly kept animals, beehives and life there was very difficult. Because of the type of climate also, there were no schools there. So, the government decided that these people should be moved down here for faster development.
Then there was another group of the Sabaot people who were moved from the government forests in Kiboror and Kapataga. Those provinces are in Transzoia. Now these groups did not agree to share the settlement. They started wrangling over the land, to the extent that in 1989 the government decided to revoke the settlement and resettle the people afresh. This resettlement has stagnated from 1989 up to date, because people have not agreed to settle their differences.
Another problem is our present political leadership, what I term as political wheel, which is supposed to work together with provincial administration. I feel that the grievances of the people of Mount Elgon have not been presented to the government properly in the way it is supposed to be. For example in the political leadership of Mount Elgon presently, you find the politicians, particularly the MP and the councillor, have distanced themselves from Mwanainchi, in that we do not have meetings so that the citizens can present their problems to the leaders on what they want, such that the leaders can present this to the D.D.C or the government on other fora. For instance, since we got the district, we have only held two meetings for the leaders. The first meeting was held on the 29th November 1994, the second meeting was held on the 17th May this year. Just imagine since we got the district, we are not sitting down as leaders. Where we can discuss development project and plan which could then be forwarded to the government for implementation.
Also since we got the district, our heads of department, all stay out of the district. The vehicles - that is the government vehicles that are driven daily to and from Kapsokwony to Kimilili - where the heads lodge outside the district. This has not raised any concern for the politicians. This to me has given that to the heads of departments who are not really concerned about development to relax more because the leaders of this area are not telling them what they are supposed to do. I feel that is what is contributing to the underdevelopment of this area.
Also, for a long time, we the people of Mount Elgon have never had the opportunity to send delegations to see the president. For example, since we got a district, there is no single day we have ever gone to say thank you to the president. All this is due to poor quality of leadership that we have. People have quite differed in the Chebuik settlement to the extent of loosing lives due to the scramble for land and then the leaders are doing nothing.
[2nd day interview starts again]
Section 12
Yesterday, we were interrupted by the rain when you were still explaining how and why the district is underdeveloped. May you continue from where you stopped yesterday.
I would like to let you know that first of all, we did not have our own district for a long time. We started fighting for the district because we were earlier part of a section of Bungoma district which was predominantly under the Bukusu leadership. While we were in Bungoma district, we could not develop because in the D.D.C, we had only one MP in the county council, we had only two councillors, in Bungoma district union for the farmers. We also had very few representatives so that when all development plans were made, it was very difficult for the people of Mount Elgon to be considered. And in fact, I remember some instances whereby some recommendations would be made for development plans for this area - for example if Kopsiro here as I have explained yesterday. It was sabotaged by the Bukusu who happened to be the majority in the district.
Also, within that time, our youth were not getting employment in the district head quarters, in the armed forces, and so on. It was very difficult and we had only two chiefs by that time. We had only two chiefs by that time. We continued the struggle with the government, requesting for our own district until fortunately in 1993 we succeeded.
I would like also to point out that unfortunately some people especially our opponents or arch rivals the Bukusu, have been claiming that we got this district as a result of the 1991-92 clashes, which I think is very wrong. I think the government realised that the people of Sabaot deserve to have their district as a community, as other people of Kenya, and that is why we were granted this district.
Now that we have our district, we are still not developing well. You find that in the present leadership it is divided into two camps. First of all, you will find that the councillors are divided into two political camps. There is a group loyal to the present MP, and there is a group which is loyal to the present town council chairman. You will also find that last year, we had KANU elections and then the former chairman who happens to be the area M.P did not qualify. He has not handed over the KANU leadership to the new officials. He is still running the KANU bank account, he has not surrendered the receipt books, the ties, the badges and even the office.
Section 13
What is your view about this problem?
My own view is that these are political differences and especially because the MP is thinking that if he looses to become the party chairman, that will be a sign for loosing in the next general election. So I think he is also worried, for he is a man who likes doing things so privately and doing things alone without consulting other leaders. So he wants to amass all leadership in the whole district so that he blocks other upcoming leaders. During the leaders meetings that I had mentioned earlier, we decided to arrange an harambee to raise about Kshs.24 million for the construction of the district headquarters. This has not been done because the former leaders of Mount Elgon together with the elders, had unanimously decided that Kopsiro become the district headquarters. Here there is plenty of government land for the construction of the district headquarters.

How large is this government and that was set aside for the district headquarters to be built?
The land on which physical planning has been done already is around 150 acres.

How large is the area set aside for the expansion of the district headquarters in Kapsokwony where the headquarters are presently?
It is hardly 5 acres. So we are having a problem. The MP does not want us to meet as leaders because he is afraid that once when we meet us leaders, people will go against his decision. So he wants to do things quietly, on his own, and this is why, he is succeeding on his own, but we are failing as a people. You can now see, Kapsokwony can not develop as a district headquarters, because of the problem of lack of land for expansion. All heads of departments are lodging out of the district because there are no staff or residential (rental) houses. Right now the KEN-Afya, which is the government of Kenya and Finland, have availed some funds for the construction of the district hospital. That money I am afraid might be returned after the end of this financial year because there is no land of extension in Kapsokwony. All the MP is doing currently, is that he is struggling to get the government to surrender part of Mount Elgon forest, which is closer to Kapsokwony, so that they can have the people of Kapsokwony to move to that area to leave the place for the hospital to be expanded, which I think will take a bit of time.
Section 14
You have said that the Bukusu have gone spreading the word that you got this district due to the 1991-92 tribal clashes. In your view what caused the clashes?
Tribal clashes as far as I know were not planned by anybody within Mount Elgon here. The tribal clashes were as a result of the past history where the Sabaot and the Bukusu had not been understanding one another. There has been differences in development. So when the multiparty system came about, it also coincided that the Sabaot were strong KANU, whereas our neighbours the neighbours the Bukusu joined the opposition. This one alone created a great rift in between the two. But when the clashes came, they started in Transzoia district. They moved slowly to this area.
Actually, how they arrived here is because, after the fight broke out in Transzoia. Some Bukusu from Transzoia who happened to be people who migrated to Transzoia from Kimilili, some of them had been injured, running [away] without their property, running away with the children, but as they were camping in Kimilili...people from Mount Elgon who were working in other towns outside Mount Elgon, who were very innocent, they knew nothing about the tribal clashes as they were coming home they were confronted in towns like Kimilili and Bungoma and even Kitale.
At the end of the day, when people of Mount Elgon heard that so and so has been killed, they had to take on the Bukusu who were here in revenge. So that is how the clashes came here.

What is your view of the impacts of tribal clashes to Mount Elgon as a region?
First of all, the clashes are something that I would not like to come back at all because none of us benefited, neither the Bukusu nor the Sabaot. We all lost. We lost our lives, we lost property and some of our young men are still in custody as I am talking. And we also lost quite a lot on the side of education. The majority of the teachers were non-Sabaot. So during the clashes, all these people fled away and abandoned the schools. That is why I was telling you I wish the clashes not come back again.

So there was a lot of destruction. What about commerce and industry?
They also lost in terms of business and especially those in Cheptais, but no destruction was done on the business buildings.

Thank you very much Mr Letepo for the good oral testimony that you have given to me and a detailed account of how things and events have happened. Due to the problem of transport to and from this region, I have to take that vehicle that I came with but I hope I will find more time at a later date, when we can continue discussing the historical developmental of the Sabaot people and Mount Elgon as a region.
Thank you. You are welcome anytime.