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Get your priorities right on Kerio Valley banditry

By Alexander Chagema | March 2nd 2017


Anybody would crack under a combination of betrayal trauma and a siege mentality. Add to that the not-so-subtle shifts in the political matrix, and I will wager Deputy President William Ruto finds himself in that dilemma at the moment.

The ground on which he stands doesn’t look so firm. And because such situations contribute little to serenity, the unexpected happens; like giving a ‘shoot-to-kill’ order to the police in the Kerio Valley conundrum where no law grants one such power.

That bandits could insolently open fire where the DP's presence should have intimidated them undermined his confidence; challenged his authority and contributed to the involuntary urge to reassert that authority. Last week’s tour by the Deputy President to the bandit-hit region was planned in advance. There was every need to secure the volatile area to guarantee his safety.

But it says a lot about the country’s security that bandits could still fire a few bullets while Ruto was addressing panicked residents, forcing them to flee. Where bandits draw this audacity is best left to conjecture.

In my view, there are three major contributors to the insecurity in Kerio Valley; an uncoordinated, reluctant and dysfunctional top-level police service, political treachery and illiteracy. Let’s juxtapose a few incidents for perspective. First, the Suguta Valley massacre in 2012. Someone in the police command sent recruits to the valley of death without back-up.

The terrain is so bad vehicles cannot be effectively used for pursuit, and the poor fellows were sent in on foot. The tide turned against them but even as they were being massacred, their anguished calls for assistance were not answered. When it was over and more than 40 officers dead, the corpses lay in the valley for days, according to witnesses.

Reconnaissance and intelligence gathering play a critical role in security operations. It pays to know where the enemy lurks, their strong points and the chinks in their armour but in November 2014, some General Service Unit Officers were impulsively despatched to Kapedo following an SOS call and walked into a bandit ambush.

At least 22 of them died. The existence of rogue officers at all levels of the police service has been a concern ever since the Independent Police Oversight Authority raised the concern following the 2014 Mpeketoni attacks. IPOA claimed some police officers had been used to smuggle and keep weapons in store for Al-Shabaab terrorists.

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Attacks in Kerio Valley have taken weeks amid lethargic response from the police. It took political intervention at a very high level to force a security operation that began on Tuesday. But there are inherent pitfalls in this. Sectarian interests and a security operation being pushed by an Executive that has usurped the powers of the Cabinet Secretary for Interior are a recipe for failure.

My take is that the focus is in the wrong direction. The Executive should stop the pretexts of looking for the masterminds among the lowlifes. A fine tooth-comb must be run over the top and middle levels of the police service. Chances exist of finding maggots that should be scrapped off.

Over time, names of notorious politicians have been adversely mentioned in relation to the atrocities in pastoralist areas, yet no action besides the impotent summonses to record statements with the police has been taken. Further, claims that bullets used by bandits are Government-issued could give a lead.

At independence, there were several enemies the new Government committed to address; among them diseases, hunger, poverty and illiteracy. In bandit-hit areas, these remain pervasive.

Without getting into the depressing statistics on illiteracy levels in bandit-hit areas, suffice it to say combined lack of good education, exposure to other cultures and encouragement to move away from punitive cultural beliefs play a central role in the perennial skirmishes. Arguably, education takes out the savages in us. In many instances, low levels of education translate into high levels of criminality.

An enlightened person, given the circumstances, cannot hijack a Red Cross truck ferrying relief food to dying kinsmen. An educated person whose conscience has been enhanced as a result will not hold a gun to a two-day infant and pull the trigger. Misplaced mores that say cattle were meant for a particular people must be gradually phased out through enlightenment.

Education must not only be free, it must be compulsory. Legislation that criminalises non-compliance should be enacted and actualised. Often, there is talk of international educational standards. How can this be when the best primary school in Turkana or Mandera cannot hold a candle to an average school in Nairobi or Kakamega?

There must be equity in staffing and equipping schools so that the mention of say, Alliance High or Nairobi School in some village does not inspire awe or jealousy. With enough trained teachers, adequate books and teaching aids, any school can hold its own.

Calls for the employment of more teachers must be heeded. It is wasteful spending time and resources training teachers who become redundant as soon as they step out of college.

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