Peace eludes region as criminals outwit state

Residents of Tiaty, Baringo County seek refuge in a school that was deserted after fights erupted between the Pokot and Marakwet communities along Kerio Valley. [File, Standard]
In certain parts of Kenya, not even the combined presence of the General Service Unit (GSU), the military and the increased presence of police officers can keep help the peace. In these regions, law and power reside in the fingers of he who pulls the trigger fast -- and first.

In most cases, these fingers belong to bandits who have made death in Kerio Valley normalcy rather than an exception. 

So menacing are the bandits that even some of the security officers deployed to the region have been felled by the criminals’ weapons, and thousands of Elgeyo Marakwet, West Pokot, Baringo, Samburu, Laikipia and Turkana residents left nursing life-long injuries while hundreds have been killed.

The menace is so deep rooted, with incidents erupting even as State machinery comes up with strategies to counter. Latest killings were at Kaben area in Marakwet East Sub-county, Elgeyo-Marakwet County.

Bandits brandishing firearms stormed in from a neighbouring county, sprayed bullets on innocent herders, killing two on the spot while a third succumbed to injuries in hospital.

Security agencies seem overpowered by the firepower of the bandits who are also know the rocky terrain and shrubby environment while launching well coordinated attacks with military precision.

According to the government, there are over 400,000 illegal guns, some sophisticated, held by the bandits, which is complicating the fight against banditry and cattle rustling in North Rift.

To combat insecurity in the region, the government enlisted thousands of National Police Reservists (NPRs), deployed hundreds of police officers and increased the number of police vehicles, including Armored Police Carriers (APC) and a helicopter.

NPRs provide security support in areas with limited number of security officers, poor communication and road infrastructure.

But with all these, locals are often on their own because by the time the security officers respond to an attack, the bandits have already accomplished their mission and left.

The NPRs who locals had identified with were withdrawn early this month and their guns repossessed by the State to pave way for fresh vetting and training, following concerns that some of them were abetting cattle-rustling.

More security forces

“The government sent more security forces to Kerio Valley, increased NPRs and brought in more vehicles, including the APCs but it was like child’s play because more people have been killed in the last decade than 30 years ago,” says Nixon Boisho, a resident from Tot in Marakwet East.

He says in the 1980s and 90s, people were uprooted from their homes by the rustlers and the same is happening now despite heavy police presence.

“Some attacks are happening a few metres from security camps and surprisingly, no officers respond, save for the NPRs who are poorly equipped and cannot match the bandits’ artillery,” says Boisho.

Wilson Yego, a resident, says they are yet to understand the work of the combined units of the police.

“We still don’t understand the role of the GSU officers. We thought they were deployed to help in recovery of stolen livestock and to tackle bandits but we were wrong,” he said.

A source within the security operation in Kerio Valley told the Sunday Standard they were not motivated.

“Some senior police officers have been underpaying them their allowances. The senior officers usually slash the operation allowances. Also, we are told not to kill the bandits yet the thugs will fire at you on sight,” said a GSU officer.

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