There is panic in the killing fields of Baringo, Laikipia and Marakwet, despite repeated assurances from the government that bandits will be decimated by the rapid response force deployed in the region a fortnight ago.
Gunfire from bandits has increased, families have fled their homes in droves, schools have been closed in Baringo and ranchers are a worried lot after one was shot dead last week in Laikipia.
Rift Valley Regional Commissioner Wanyama Musiambo and his security team are spending sleepless nights dealing with the marauding bandits as the situation escalates.
He has declared the affected areas “dangerous” and that means police officers and police reservists can apply force to ensure there is law and order.
“The declaration that those places are dangerous means people in those areas cannot enjoy certain liberties but it is not a declaration of an emergency,” said Mwenda Njoka, a Communications Director in the Ministry of Interior.
Last week, The Standard on Sunday visited the area where herdsmen armed with AK47 rifles could be seen roaming in the shrub lands of Kerio Valley all the way from Tiaty in Baringo, Sigor to Turkwel in West Pokot and across the River Wei Wei in Turkana South.
Two weeks ago, Deputy President William Ruto warned the bandits that they would be wiped out by the combined force of police reservists and a heavily armed paramilitary police.
He spoke when he commissioned the police reservists to join the security operation as questions about their deployment were raised by a section of leaders and human rights activists.
But in a show of might and contempt on the ongoing joint security operation, the bandits killed 11 people at Mukutani in Baringo South on Tuesday night.
Another group of the daring bandits suspected to have come from Turkana South snuffed out two lives early this week at Lami Nyeusi near Turkwel and drove away a large herd of cattle, shooting some dead as they fled.
The commissioning of the police reservists has now been dismissed as a public relations exercise by the Jubilee government because no cattle have been recovered, no bandit arrested and the attacks continue unabated.
“We are still living in fear because they attacked a village near Tot last week after the Deputy President left,” said Marita Kanda, a resident.
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In the Baringo South attack, the bandits suspected to be from East Pokot made a mockery of the heavy deployment of security forces in Baringo by the DP and Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet last month.
“The minister is concerned about the insecurity in Rift Valley but he is not ready to tell you the number of Kenya Police Reservists (KPR) deployed because it is a security issue,” said a senior officer at the Office of The President.
Successive governments of presidents Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Moi, Mwai Kibaki and now Uhuru Kenyatta have failed to deal with the problem, despite both the General Service Unit (GSU) and the army carrying repeated security operations since 1970.
The commissioning of the “integrated police reservists programme” by Ruto and Boinnet to tame the insecurity, which included the arming and equipping of 230 police reservists at Chesongoch village along the Marakwet escarpment, is therefore another desperate attempt.
The only difference appears to be that the police officers are better equipped, using armoured personnel carriers which may not be very useful because the hardy little bandits operate from the expansive and almost endless acacia woodlands spread across Kerio Valley.
“It is difficult for the police and that explains why police officers based in this region prefer to use the services of the armed ‘Ngorokos’ to chase after attacking bandits, kill some and recover animals for which they later claim credit,” said Riong’ole Ngolepus, a resident of Lomut in Sogor.
Perhaps that also explains why the government has now decided to officially hire police reservists because many police officers have in the past been killed by the bandits during such operations as was a few years ago witnessed in Kapedo, also in Baringo County.
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The plus side of the story is that jobs have been created because each reservist now earns Sh10,000, according to some of the recruits.
Although no formal training was provided for the reservists, it has emerged that they were meeting every morning at police stations near their homes since last year.
“Almost everyone here knows how to handle guns so we did not have any training on that but we were mainly trained on how to conduct ourselves when working with the police,” said a reservist.
The thinking by the government is that once it has integrated as many of the young men as possible, it will be able to contain the problem apart from stopping them from carrying out attacks because they also know active bandits.
All reservists in Kerio Valley are under the National Police Service under one police command based in Nakuru, whose leader is answerable to the Office of the President. They have a military chopper whenever required for rapid police response.
Some leaders from the region, including Eldoret Catholic Diocese Bishop Cornelius Korir, have asked the government to immediately deploy adequate and well equipped security personnel to cover Pokot and Turkana areas.
Police reservists have therefore been welcomed by some Kenyans and but they are also maligned by critics who argue that they use guns given to them for security to engage in banditry.
“We need to stop armed groups who are terrorising communities, including even the security forces themselves. Having such groups in any part of our country is unacceptable, quick action must be taken to disarm them,” said Bishop Korir.
Two years ago, former Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo called off plans to disarm Kenya Police Reservists in Pokot, Turkana and other parts of the North Rift after declaring that some of the home guards were using guns for cattle rustling.
There are more than 1,000 KPR deployed in the North Rift region.