A KDF helicopter lands at a military camp near Silale Hills in Kapedo. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

For decades, the government has been dealing with security challenges caused by cattle rustlers in the North Rift region.

Last year, following a spike in the violent activities of bandits, the government launched a security operation dubbed Operation Maliza Uhalifu in the region.

As the campaign involved the military, the National Police Service and other security formations, banditry activity appeared to have reduced across the region, and the government announced success in fighting insecurity.

However, two months ago, areas like Baringo, West Pokot, Samburu and Elgeyo Markwet counties witnessed a fresh surge in attacks.

Heightened security operations have been witnessed in the area but bandits continue to strike, killing and stealing livestock and destroying property.

The criminals have also disobeyed government directives to surrender illegal firearms.

While residents are most affected, the insecurity has not spared security personnel, including senior officers.

The continued insecurity in the area has seen senior government officials in the security department tour the region with over 3,000 security personnel.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki is among the top government officials who have been frequenting the area to assess the security situation.

President William Ruto had directed CS Kindiki to camp in the area until peace was restored.

Last month, Kindiki announced that the government had spent Sh7.6 billion in the preceding 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 the Police Equipment Modernisation programme.

He said the equipping and kitting of frontline 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.

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

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

Early this month, Inspector General of Police Japhet Koome toured the area and said the government will not relent in the war against banditry.

The police boss noted that the bandits have gone beyond cattle rustling and were now sabotaging the economy of the region.

The IG said the criminals vandalised an electricity line supplying power to Ngaratuko areas of Baringo North on Monday.

“Enough is enough. They have crossed the red line and the truth is this is a matter of being ruthless,” Koome said.

He said more security personnel have been deployed to Baringo North with new equipment and the criminals would be dealt with in the ongoing Maliza Uhalifi operation in the North Rift.

Even with the ongoing operation Maliza Uhalifu in the North Rift, bandits continue to reign. Baringo North has been the most affected area. Locals in Saimo Soi ward have been forced to flee their homes.

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

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 in Baringo North last month. The bandits reportedly drove away 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.

In Samburu County, several people have been killed and others displaced. Many families have fled Morijo, Soit Pus, Angata Nanyokie, and Pura villages following bandit attacks.

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

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

Government officials are also feeling the heat of the raids.

Given the history of failed attempts to tackle insecurity in the region, the level of violence remains, the bandits continue to attack villages, paralysing government services and leading to the closure of schools.

Since February 13 when the operation was launched, government records show more than 100 attacks have been reported in the region.

The military forces conducted airstrikes in March, targeting militia hideouts in Korkoron and Tandare hills in Baringo and Kalemngorok in Turkana.

According to media reports, the security forces engaged bandits in gunfights in Samburu and Baringo counties, which host hideouts for bandits.

At some point during the security operation, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki ordered the building of fences around the bandits’ hideouts in Tandare Valley and Kokoron Hills and caves.

President William Ruto promised a long-haul security operation in the region and further directed a permanent military operation camp at the border between West Pokot and Elgeyo Marakwet counties.

He said the move was aimed at supporting the police in enforcing peace and security in the region.

Other measures announced by the president were training additional National Police Reservist (NPR) personnel and provide them with medical cover and a monthly stipend.

In 2022, the government reinstated the NPR in areas prone to attacks by bandits after disarming them in May 2019 on suspicion that they were using their weapons to commit crimes.

In an effort to find a lasting solution to banditry, the operation adopted off-battlefield tactics to tackle the structural and systematic issues that provided ground for locals to join banditry.

The military offered free medical camps, provided medical care to residents, and helped with rebuilding more than 20 schools destroyed by the bandits.

The multi-agency security team also supported development projects in a bid to enhance economic growth, collaborating with churches and local leaders.

The team has been applying traditional conflict resolution approaches by leveraging the support of community elders as peace ambassadors to mediate between warring communities and facilitate the surrender of illegal weapons to security agencies.

Information sharing by chiefs and traditional leaders is considered to be a contributing factor to the success of past security campaigns, such as the operation against Sabaot Land Defence Forces in Mount Elgon.

In November 2014, 21 police officers were killed in Kapedo.

Then President Uhuru Kenyatta visited the area and ordered the return of the rifles stolen from the slain officers within 24 hours. He also ordered operations conducted in the area.

In June 2015, then Baringo County Commissioner Peter Okwanyo issued a shoot-to-kill order against bandits, arsonists, cattle rustlers and those in possession of illegal firearms after retired Loruk chief Wilson Chebungei was shot by bandits and businesses razed.

In March 2017, 11 people were killed in Mukutani.

In January 2021, the government began a disarmament operation in Tiaty after the killing of at least 10 people around Kapedo. Among those killed were General Service Unit operations commissioner Emadau Tebakol, Chief Inspector Moses Lekariab, and a driver, Constable Benson Kaburu.

Following the killings, an operation that lasted for eight weeks started on January 18. On March 23, it was halted as local leaders pleaded with the government to allow them to conduct a peace campaign.

The government has always said it has the names of the criminals raising questions on why they are yet to be brought to book.

In early February 2022, then Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i ordered an immediate operation to flush out criminals in the North Rift. Dr Matiang’i said aerial surveillance was to be applied in the area. He ordered for immediate recruitment of National Police Reservists.

The government, in June 2022 said it had identified some 350 holders of illegal firearms in the insecurity-prone Kerio Valley belt and called on them to surrender or else face the full force of the law.

In September 2022, bandits killed 11 people, including eight police officers and a chief in Namariat village, Turkana County. The National Police Service started a multi-agency operation to arrest the perpetrators, recover stolen animals, and firearms, and return normalcy in the area.

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

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