Banditry in North Rift proves hard nut to crack for Ruto

Kenya Defense Forces escort the convoy carrying the body of the late Joseph Kibet, Head Teacher of Kagir Primary School, along the Chemoe-Kagir road for his burial ceremony at Kagir village in Baringo North on February 29, 2024. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The Kenya Kwanza government promised to deal with banditry in the North Rift during the 2022 campaigns.

Led by Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua, the leaders vowed to deal with insecurity in the North Rift within the first 90 days of the Kenya Kwanza administration.

“The issue of insecurity in the North Rift is a small matter. What is lacking is the political goodwill to deal with. We have a minister who is into politics, we were given a DCI who instead of dealing with crime is politicking,” said Gachagua during an economic forum in Kabarnet in May 2022.

This, however, seems not to be the case as raids continue with abandon.

Sounds of gunshots and weeping residents are the norm as insecurity cripples operations in the region.

In September 2022, bandits killed 11 people, including eight police officers and a chief in Namariat village, Turkana county.

Following the killings, the National Police Service started a multi-agency operation to arrest the perpetrators, recover stolen animals, and firearms, and return normalcy in the area.

President William Ruto then directed security agencies to deal firmly with the bandits.  “After receiving a comprehensive report on the Turkana/Pokot incident that led to 10 security/administration officers losing their lives, I have instructed security agencies to deal firmly, decisively, and conclusively with those involved. Cattle rustling will stop na sio tafadhali,” stated Ruto.

The President in August 2023 revealed that 3,000 security officers were in North Rift and an additional 2,000 would be deployed in the region.

“It is not possible that 60 years after independence we are still struggling with cattle rustling. I told the rustlers to try me. Cattle rustling is primitive, backward, and stupid,” said Ruto in August 2023 while in Baringo.

Previously, the President had ordered Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki to camp in the area till insecurity is eradicated.

Prof Kindiki thereafter embarked on tours of the region with a warning to bandits that they had no place to hide. Heavy police deployment has been witnessed in the region.

In 2023 the government deployed a multi-agency security team comprising the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) and National Police Service under ‘Operation Maliza Uhalifu’ North Rift.

Last month, Kindiki announced that the government has spent Sh7.6 billion in the last six months to acquire sophisticated weapons to help combat insecurity.

The CS said the government will spend over Sh29.4 billion in the next three years on Police Equipment Modernisation (PEM) programme.

He assured that the equipping and kitting of front-line officers currently deployed in Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) in the North Eastern Region, the Boni Enclave, the Upper Eastern Region, and North Rift Valley remains a key priority of the Kenya Kwanza Administration.

Kenya Defense Forces escort the convoy carrying the body of the late Joseph Kibet, Head Teacher of Kagir Primary School, along the Chemoe-Kagir road for his burial ceremony at Kagir village in Baringo North on February 29, 2024. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Kindiki said the government plans to acquire Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs), Armoured Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)/drones, gunship helicopters, mine sweepers, and Personal Protection Equipment for frontline officers.

He also commissioned and dispatched the first batch of equipment for Operation Maliza Uhalifu in North Rift.

“The government remains focused on complete suppression and neutralisation of terrorism, banditry, livestock rustling, and other organised criminal activities as the sure way of turning around our national security and putting Kenya on a firm path to equitable development and shared prosperity,” he said.

Even with the heavy deployment and heightened security bandits continue to reign terror in part of North Rift.

Attacks have resulted in killings of residents, displacement, and destruction of property.

In January suspected bandits shot at Laikipia rancher Lucy Jennings in the head and arm. She later succumbed to the injuries.

A police officer, who was on leave was shot dead by bandits last month in Baringo North. The bandits reportedly drove away several livestock.

In February, Kagir Primary School head teacher was ambushed and shot dead by bandits. Thomas Kibet, a blind teacher was killed on February 10, 2024, while on his way to Kipcherere Secondary School for his child’s academic day.

On Saturday property of unknown value was destroyed after armed criminals set on fire two classrooms at Ngaratuko Primary School in Baringo North.

Baringo County Police Commander Julius Kiragu said a multi-agency operation is going on in the area to track down the criminals.

Kiragu noted that the criminals vandalised the school's solar panels and water tanks.

“We don’t know who did that but we started a multi-agency operation. This time we must get it right,” he said.

A week ago a tutor at Chemolingot Kenya Medical Training College was attacked by bandits along the Loruk-Chemolingot road.

Government officials are also feeling the heat of the raids.

Sibilo Location Chief Joseph Chemitei said he cannot access the Seretion and Kasiokol area where his goats are located.

“I don’t know how the government will handle this. It is so painful and a shame to see a chief beg being a government servant,” he said.

Local leaders and residents have castigated the government for failing to tame insecurity in the area.

Saimo Soi ward MCA Michael Chebon said the bandits have overpowered the government.

Baringo Woman MP Florence Jematia regretted that bandits continue operating with impunity despite raising the issue with President William Ruto several times.

“We supported UDA since we had hopes that the issue of banditry will come to an end,” she said.

Baringo North MP Joseph Makilap faulted the government for failure to address insecurity in the region.

“This is not what government should do to their people. It is no longer normal in Baringo North. I have told President Ruto everything, I have told CS Kindiki everything about the rampant insecurity,” he said.

In Samburu county, several people have been killed and others displaced. Many families have fled Morijo, Soit Pus, Angata Nanyoke, and Pura villages following attacks by bandits.

Locals claim that at least 72 people have been killed in the past four months.

The burial of Joseph Kibet, a blind Head Teacher of Kagir Primary School, on February 29, 2024. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

In Angata Nanyokie ward, the area MCA Paul Leshimpiro is among the casualties of the attacks.

Maa leaders led by Governors Joseph Ole Lenku (Kajiado), Patrick Ole Ntutu (Narok), and Samburu’s Lati Lelelit have since called on the government to firmly deal with the criminals.

Governor Lati told of his frustration in seeking intervention from senior government officials to help end the frequent bandit attacks.

“I have been in every office of top security personnel in this country but nothing has been done to save the lives of my people. I even appealed to the Inspector General of Police to help flush out bandits from their hideout in vain,” he said.

Lati claimed that senior government security officers were feeding President Ruto with false information that Suguta Valley is inaccessible.

Kajiado Governor Joseph Ole Lenku said it was disheartening that 72 people were killed and the government did not offer condolences. At least 20 schools have been closed.

Samburu North MP Eli Letipila said even the Interior CS has not been helpful.

“We have been forwarding him information about the security situation in Samburu but he has not been helpful. We have even visited his office but nothing is being done,” he said.

Baringo Civil Society Organization Chairman Isaiah Biwott said the government is having challenges addressing the insecurity since communities are turning against each other.

He said the elite of the warring communities are fighting over land which has been mistaken for cattle rustling.

“What is happening in the Saimo Soi area is the demarcation of community land, people are pushing each other out. My cousin was killed by the Tugen and not Pokots,” he said.

Biwott said the current government has failed as there are more attacks than was the case before.

He noted that at least 7,000 families have been displaced in Bartabwa and Saimo Soi wards.

“This is not normal banditry and that is why it is not cattle rustling. The killings happen along the roads and schools are torched, this is not normal,” he said.