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The man in the eye of security storm

Tiaty MP Asman Kamama. (Photo: Kipsang Joseph/Standard)

Asman Abong’otum Kamama is a man under siege.

As chair of the parliamentary committee on Administration and National Security, Kamama has found himself under pressure to resign after banditry attacks in Baringo County that claimed the lives of over 10 people and displaced over 10,000 others.

Victims of the attack claim he has been using his position as chair of the committee to influence police operations or even share intelligence with the attackers, said to be from his Tiaty constituency.

Kamama has vehemently denied these claims.

Still, the Tiaty MP cuts an enigmatic figure. His peers from the community do not refer to him as Abong’otum because they say he does not come from that clan whose name he adopted. They say he is from the Talai clan.

“Nobody calls him by that name. He does not belong to the Abong’otum clan but Talai. We only see that name in the media,” said an elder who spoke on condition of anonymity.

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His official name, a former secondary schoolmate said, is Kamama Robert Asman. But to those who grew up with the MP in Laikipia, he is Kamuzee Kamama. The MP is said to have been raised in Laikipia, where his mother was hosted by her brother who was working for the county’s current Senator GG Kariuki.

Kamama, son of Asman Chakaitia, is calm and calculated in his talks, and cautious of his surroundings. When this writer sat with him at a hotel on the outskirts of Nakuru after the killings of two Tiaty politicians, Loyamorok MCA Frederick Cheretei, and Jubilee Party aspirant, Symon Kitambaa Pepee, Kamama looked a worried man.

He was in the company of two men and kept watching over his shoulders. Any slight noise distracted him. Then he would pause to look around before picking up the conversation.

The Tiaty MP denies having a hand in the killings.

“I am very clean. Let even the Scotland Yard detectives carry out investigations. They will clear me,” he said.

His former bodyguard turned contractor, Titus Longor, was arrested after the killings.

During the conversation with Kamama at the hotel, two men -one whom he introduced as his personal assistant- would from time to time interject and talk to him in his dialect after this writer asked a question or when he was in the middle of explaining something.

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He would then cut short an answer or change direction of the conversation.

“I worked in the Provincial Administration,” he said when asked why he was not comfortable coming out to clear his name on his role in the cattle rustling menace in Baringo since becoming an MP in 2002.

He defended himself against allegations that he has a hand in the bandit attacks that have hit the region.

“There is a misunderstanding in the court of public opinion that because I am the chair of the committee, I give orders to police or I determine how the officers undertake operations,” he says.

That, he said, is the work of the Inspector General of Police.

“The office of the Inspector General Police is independent and there is no way I can influence anything. They cannot take orders from me. Mine is only limited to legislative role,” he said.

Kamama represents the constituency inhabited by Pokots, who have historically been blamed for engaging in cattle rustling. Perennial attacks and counterattacks have led the Tugen, Ilchamus and Pokot, all neighbours inhabiting Baringo County, to live in mutual hatred.

Despite numerous reconciliation efforts, the three communities seem to have an eagerness to destroy one another and a zeal for vengeance that sees them seek heavy arms to hunt each other in the sprawling bushes.

The result is a constant state of siege. At the moment no Pokot can go through an area inhabited by the Tugens and Ilchamus, especially areas that are usually epicentres of inter-communal fights like Marigat, Kiserian, Arabal, Mochongoi and Mukutani in Baringo South, and some parts of Baringo North.

The same applies to the Tugens and Ichamus – none of their own can dare venture into Pokot territory.

Kamama stands for different things for different people in the area he represents.

To victims of cattle rustling, the man who rose from being a teacher in 1990s at Chemolingot High school, to serving as District Officer (DO1) from 1992 before switching to politics in 2002, is the fulcrum on which cattle rustling rotates.

But Kamama, when confronted with these claims, vehemently denies playing any role in the attacks and displacements in the region.

“I do not condone cattle rustling and I am not a sponsor of cattle rustlers. I just happen to represent a region where it is rampant,” he says.

To close political friends and foes, he is calculating, always joining parties that end up being in government. In 2002, he went to Parliament on a Ford-People ticket, an affiliate of the Rainbow Coalition that ruled till 2007. In 2007, he opted for the Party of National Unity which again won the disputed polls.

In 2013, joined Deputy President William Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP) and was elected MP.

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