Bandit zones: Where junior police officers are sent by seniors to die

"Brian Leyian, Number 264582, from the administration unit was shot in the forehead and succumbed to injuries," an Occurrence Book entry at Marsabit Police Station stated.

His colleague, Jonathan Ngeno, was shot on the left side of the chest and was taken to Marsabit Referral Hospital.

On the day Leyian was killed by bandits, three other families were burying their loved ones, police officers, also felled by bandits.

Constables Boniface Muthi Mutiso, Benson Macharia and Eric Kipchirchir Rugut were killed by bandits in Turkana on Saturday, September 24 this year, in another ambush.

Macharia was 22, Muthii was 22, and Rugut was 26 years old and all were killed in the line of duty.

Another victim of bandits, constable William Kirimi Kithure, was also being buried by officers from the National Police Service on the same day.

Muthii's uncle, Kimotho Muli, told mourners in Kirinyaga that it was very sad to lose such a young person.

Ambushed by bandits

Muthii died even before receiving his first salary, according to the uncle, who said the family had worked hard to educate Muthii.

"His death is a big blow to us. We took loans so that we could educate him. And when he was just settling in to build himself and support the rest of the family, he was taken away from us," he said.

"The young man had not received his salary for five months, and his colleague was only deployed to Turkana one week before the attack. It is very sad."

The three are among eight officers and three civilians who were ambushed and killed by bandits on that Saturday night in September.

Mary Aukot, the sister of Third Way Alliance Party leader Ekuru Aukot, was among them.

"She'd volunteered to have the police officers use her car in pursuing the suspects," Aukot said.

"It's sad. I've lost my sister, Mary, in a banditry attack. The killings of innocent people by this criminal group happen almost daily in Turkana and its environs."

The police have launched a multi-agency operation to arrest perpetrators of the September 24 attack.

Police Spokesman Bruno Shioso said that such acts shall not be tolerated and must be brought to an end at all costs.

"I call upon the public to cooperate in this noble effort to return security to the area by volunteering information that may lead to the arrest of the criminals and recovery of stolen animals," Shioso said.

While human rights groups have been quick to call for justice when civilians are killed, the story of police officers and the agony that befalls their families is one that often goes untold.

A teacher in Kapedo, Turkana East, where more than 22 police officers were killed by bandits in 2015, says death and gunshots have almost become normal.

The teacher, who requested anonymity, said that learning and other basic services are disrupted almost daily by bandits' gunshots.

He said this has contributed to the slow economic growth of the region, exposing it to high levels of poverty and illiteracy.

He added that pupils, in most cases, are not keen on classes. They are keen on saving their lives since bandits attack villages frequently.

Aukot believes the State has demonstrated that it does not care about people in Northern Kenya by failing to investigate criminal activities in the region.

"Getting swift security response is a problem in many parts of Kenya, and this is due to insufficient resources," he said.

President William Ruto, in reacting to the incident that led to 10 security and administration officers losing their lives, promised a decisive action.

"I have instructed security agencies to deal firmly, decisively, and conclusively with those involved. Cattle rustling will stop na sio tafadhali," tweeted Ruto.

Police officers, politicians and members of the civil society groups believe that the bandits are sponsored by powerful politicians who have commercialised cattle rustling.

Some believe that the beneficiaries of the banditry are powerful and may not heed warnings from the President and that many continue to roam freely.

Lasting solutions

Baringo Woman Representative Florence Jematiah told a rally in her constituency that the people behind banditry are in Parliament.

"They are our colleagues in Parliament and have been killing tens of people using their gang of women," Jematiah claimed. "They operate with MCAs and elders in villages to kill and rob animals."

Leaders have always pointed fingers when incidences of banditry happen. But lasting solutions are far from being found.

Police officers, who did not want to be named, said that they are at times forced to live within the demands of illegal groups to save their lives.

"Hao vijana waki come wanataka mafuta ya bunduki utawanyima wakupige risasi later ama uta cooperate?" posed one of the officers.

Some police officers also accuse their seniors of using postings to such volatile regions as a punishment for any person who contradicts them.

"The top police brass sends police officers to Northern Kenya as a punishment to some of us, especially if we don't agree with their demands," said one of the officers.

Usalama Reforms Forum founder Caleb Wanga says inexperienced police officers should not be sent to banditry zones.

"We had proposals that junior or inexperienced officers should not be sent to banditry zones until they gain experience. We should also address the issue of orders from above to save lives," Wanga said.

Wanga claims cattle rustling has been commercialised because of the ready market in Nairobi and its environs.

External players

"The real suspects live in posh estates in Nairobi while they use poor villagers to kill and raid. Some hold senior positions to protect themselves," Wanga said.

He added that there were external players supporting banditry, which if there was political goodwill, would have been addressed.

The leaders said that the locals always overpower the police because they understand the terrain and have sophisticated weapons.

"We have more than 200,000 illegal firearms in this region. The weapons are ferried to Kenya from South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia and Uganda through Karamoja," Wanga said.

"Most communities on the border overlap on either side. This has allowed these people to operate freely on both sides and be able to vote in both countries."

The police, in the 2021 Annual Police report attributed cattle rustling to commercial ventures, the proliferation of small arms, competition for scarce natural resources, political activities, cultural beliefs and striving for ultimate territorial control.

The report, which covered cases reported across the country from January 2012 to December 2021, said that the rate of recovery has improved but the main challenge remains the vast and harsh terrain in cattle rustling-prone areas.

"A total of 817 cases involving cattle rustling and stock theft were recorded during the period under review as compared to 662 cases in the same period in 2020," the police said.

This represents an increase of 155 cases or 23.4 per cent. A total of 151 people were killed and 187 others injured during the period under review in comparison to 56 killed and 94 injured during the same period last

"The major reason for the increase in the number of cattle stolen during the period under review is the persistent drought," the police report said.