Magazine article The Spectator

In the Line of Fire

Magazine article The Spectator

In the Line of Fire

Article excerpt


'Let us go in amongst the cattle and talk, ' said the Councillor Jeremiah.

That means a serious matter is to be discussed. It was evening, and the cattle were already in the boma. We went in, and Jeremiah let me know we must prepare for cattle rustling at Christmas. After the worst drought in half a century, pastoralists are out to restock and we have a fine Boran herd. It brings back memories.

'Stolen!' yelled the cowboy Lopiyor after lunch two Boxing Days ago. 'Bandits!

Cattle!' I took seconds to respond. 'What?'

Lopiyor, now leaning on his knees, panted.

'Samburu! Rustled! Guns! Steers!'

I looked where Lopiyor pointed and saw a great plume of dust about two miles away. I tried to radio the authorities for help. 'This is Whisky Eight and we have a cattle raid.'

Silence. So I radioed my neighbours. The rustlers might attack the farmstead to divert attention from the cattle raid, so I decided to evacuate the family.

'Hurry!' I urged.

"Oh, I'm not worried, ' said my mother-inlaw Jean, visiting from Seaford in Sussex. 'I was in the war, you know.'

I bustled them off to a more-distant farm.

By now I could hear gunfire. A neighbour's small aircraft was circling in tight turns, just 200 feet off the ground - marking where the raiders were on the ground. A line of vehicles trundled along the horizon. The radio barked. We heard the occasional shot.

The farm askari Ekwom and other workers, roused from meat-eating on their day off, gathered with spears, knives, clubs and tomahawks. They were wide-eyed with excitement and sang war songs as we piled into the car and zoomed eastwards until we met up with others trying to get ahead of the rustlers. Just then a withering burst of AK-47 fire crackled over our heads and we dropped on our faces in the dust. A shout went up as a line of figures about 200 metres off emerged from the thicket and ran to the left. As the sun slanted low in the late afternoon, I could see the raiders were naked, glistening with sheep's fat and red ochre war paint. Gun metal and spear tips flashed in the softening light.

Askaris returned fire, but we could see no cattle. The raiders' tactic of firing and moving worked and we lost them again in the scrub and long grass.

Silence. The sun dipped to the horizon.

The trackers fanned out to check the possible escape routes. They came back saying the raiders must have gone into the thicket. …

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