Photo: The Standard
One Monday evening, I watched as a widow of a police officer in Turkana narrated the pain she went through after she lost her husband in Kapedo in 2015. Consolata Ekeno, the widow of James Lopeyok a police constable lost her husband and sole breadwinner while in the line of duty.
A year earlier in 2014, the world was brought to a standstill by reports about the killing in cold blood of 21 police officers and three civilians by bandits in Kapedo area. In that year the National Police Service reported that forty-seven police officers were killed and 77 injured in the line of duty. It is indeed paying the ultimate price for making us remain safe. Sadly, the majority of those officers recently killed in the line of duty are youthful guys with promising futures.
The lives of many families have been disrupted by bandits in the pastoralist areas for decades leaving their families distraught. People who have lost relatives like Consolata have been left to fend for her dear children as she painfully mourns the sudden death of her beloved husband. It is a double tragedy.
AK-47 guns surrendered by bandits during a previous security operation. PHOTO: Nation Media Group
The consistent banditry attacks in these areas have not only affected people like Consolata alone but millions of others in different ways in these troubled counties that are now rightfully declared; ‘disturbed and dangerous’ by Internal Security Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki. The people in these areas cannot go out to carry out basic things like collecting firewood in the neighbourhoods let alone tend to their farms or herd their livestock without worrying about losing lives. Some people have been shot dead by bandits as they went about herding small goats near their homes, tilling and tending to their modest farms in dry areas in order to feed their children.
Recently the Cabinet Secretary for interior declared Turkana, West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo, Laikipia, and Samburu Counties as 'disturbed and dangerous'. The CS revealed that in the past six months, bandits and livestock rustlers have brutally murdered more than 100 innocent civilians and 16 police officers while hundreds had been displaced. This necessitated for the government to deploy the Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) to combat the situation in the troubled North Rift region.
Some of the locals and leadership have expressed confidence and hope that the deployment will deal with the banditry menace. For the last 10 years, PPG has been pushing to end cattle rustling and inter-community conflict. However, it is known that they are people out there with different opinions.
Kenyan army. Photo: allafrica.com
Research done by Eva Wangari in 2016 on ‘Trends in Police Militarization, A Case Study of Kenya (2005-2015)’ indicated the military was deployed to resolve conflicts between local populations at least three times in 2014. In May, the army was sent to Mandera County to disarm the local populace. They were dispatched to Marsabit County on September 21 to end the conflict between the Gabra and Borana communities. In November, the army was sent out to Kapedo to end the violence that had resulted in the deaths of 19 police officers and to recover the weapons and ammunition that the bandits had stolen from the officers. This has been the trend for decades in bandit-prone areas. The government should avoid the pitfall of repeating this same mistake by doing the same thing in the same way this time.
Wangari further observes in her research that since military personnel are not trained to interact with civilians, they are oblivious to the Constitutionally guaranteed preservation and protection of civil liberties. She adds that although it is true that peace has been restored whenever and wherever the military has been deployed to deal with violent situations within the country, this peace always comes at a high cost. Every time the military has been called in to restore civil order in Kenya, there have been complaints about civil rights violations and violations of citizen freedom. This was observed in the regions of Kapenguria, Marsabit, and Kapedo where human rights violations were documented.
We understand the context of insecurity in the region and this nonsense must come to end. However, what we are saying is that President William Ruto, CS Kindiki and operation commanders should have their ears on the ground, involve local leaders and listen to the people. The communities clearly know the people who are responsible for bringing tensions and who are behind the livestock rustling in their areas but there is intense fear to speak about it for the government in the past does not listen to those little quiet voices even though it carries the answers to the problem. All government needed to do is listen carefully and bring those responsible to book. Collective punishment does not work as it breeds new grievances that will grow the next seed that carry conflict and tensions.
It is obvious and quite agreeable what Sigor MP Peter Lochakapong, one of the new officials of the Pastoralist Parliamentary when he said “the reason pastoralists move from one place to another is to look for water and pasture for their livestock. Let the pastoralist be facilitated to agree on how they are going to live together and use the natural resources in each other territory. For a long time, the pastoralist people have lived together peacefully but it is only a few people who have private interests who disrupt the peace among the pastoralist that is now causing chaos in the landscape.” We believe that there is hope and that the pastoralists will continue to interact freely and fend for their livestock and families and share together scarce resources wherever it is available.
Another solution is open the marginalized areas by constructing access roads, model schools and digging boreholes and water dames. The Kenya Defence Forces have adequate equipment that can do an amazing job on this front. They should not only take munitions of weapons and other related weapons and equipment for killing humans that go with the army's cache of guns and bullets. They should also carry with them other developmental equipment that will open up the access roads, drill boreholes, and construct dams and schools in the isolated areas in order to initiate new social economic projects. This double strategy will change the dynamic on the ground not only ending the banditry but will leave behind memories of the bandit-free zone of areas that were ignored for many years by successive governments since independence. It will breathe the fresh air of motivation and enjoyment of development benefits.
Jarso Mokku is the CEO of Drylands Learning and Capacity Building Initiative DLCI and Pastoralist Parliamentary Group (PPG) Secretariat based in Nairobi, Kenya.
This article was originally published www.dlci-hoa.org.