What does government know?

The ongoing military operation in Kapedo, Baringo, and adjoining areas to flush out cattle rustlers, who nearly a month ago killed 22 police officers, has touched off intense debate on whether the state has its pulse on matters security.

Some even reckon that the country has been taken over by criminals, some of whom are entrenched in government.

Security experts are now piling pressure on the Executive to start looking ‘inward’ for solutions rather than the wild goose chase that has seen innocent people caught up in the crossfire between security agents and criminals.

The pressure has been mounting in tandem with calls for withdrawal of the military from Baringo.

Although it is widely known that cattle rustling is a thriving ‘economy’ supported by senior government officials in the Office of the President, internal security ministry, and the departments of forestry and wildlife, focus has largely been on armed herders.

Civil servants involvement

Col Benjamin Mwema, retired military officer who currently advises United Nations on military issues and democracy in Eastern Africa, says the government should first address concerns about the involvement of senior civil servants in cattle rustling, which he adds is tied to money-laundering, poaching and drug trafficking.

“Insecurity in Baringo has been around for many years. The conflict is over resources and the herders are at the tail end of a highly organised criminal scheme, whose patrons hold senior positions in the security sector and civil service. Since livestock is the only source of livelihood, demand for the animals creates inter-ethnic conflict,” Col Mwema explains.

Inter-ethnic storm

The discovery of oil and large water deposits in Turkana, which borders Baringo County (which is at the centre of the current current inter-ethnic storm pitting the Pokot against the Tugen, Turkana and Elchamus), has attracted massive interest from investors.

The stakes will rise higher with the confirmation later in the year of more oil discovery in Kerio Valley.

The regions hitherto considered arid and semi-arid and therefore of low economic potential, have in the past three years transformed into East Africa’s El Dorado, with foreign mining firms trampling over each other in pursuit of mining licenses as the allure for more oil and valuable mineral becomes irresistible.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) has been carrying out investigations of involvement of senior government officials and the political elite in Kapedo in Baringo and Baragoi in Samburu. Although there are no smoking guns yet, its preliminary findings, titled ‘Towards Possible Solution to the Wave of Crime,’ to be presented to the Senate Committee on Security, inevitably incriminates heads of security agencies.

“In the recent past and especially in the Kapedo killings, several high ranking officials were implicated for having a hand in the skirmishes, but no one was ever arrested and charged.

The same was witnessed during the killings in Wajir and Mandera, where high ranking officials were mentioned and the Directorate of Criminal Investigation indicated that a probe on the allegations was being undertaken, but the findings of these investigations have not been made available,” the report says in part.

Competition for resources

KNCHR commissioner and assistant chair George Morara, linked the insecurity to competition for resources, saying that this is further stoked by the political elite, some of whom control militias.

“The competition for the meagre resources has sucked in the police. The Administration Police and the Kenya Police are ever at loggerheads. Whereas AP would make arrests, their KP counterparts would not prefer any charges against the suspects.

The rivalry between the two police units has created firewalls that prevent one arm of the security from knowing what the other is doing. The turf wars are a deliberate obstruction to prevent investigators from getting to the bottom of the matter,” points out Morara.

Col Mwema wants the Executive to be decisive in rooting out the political elite and senior civil servants financing insecurity.

“If you are to connect the dots (of how the crime ring operates), you will have to start with the politicians, the people in government, the rustlers, then the markets.

But what we are seeing is the usual knee-jerk reaction whenever there is a problem. The deployment of KDF in Kapedo amounts to trying to kill a fly with a mallet,” he says.

 Morara also says security interventions should focus more on the business side of the conflict.

“Politicians’ kin and government officials are the perpetrators of the trade that extends to Uganda. What is surprising is that the National Intelligence Service (NIS) knows this, but the relevant authorities are not acting on information provided by the locals. Fatigue has now set in and the residents no longer trust the police,” he says.

When President Uhuru Kenyatta toured Kapedo after the massacre of the police officers, he gave an ultimatum to the raiders to surrender all illegal firearms.

However, leaders from the Pokot community reacted with disapproval saying the directive would leave them exposed to Turkana and  Tugen attacks.

As at the beginning of this week (November 6), 21 firearms had been surrendered. However, the directive did not address the ease with which firearms and ammunition are found in the area.

“Ammunition are sold in bags in the open. So common-place are the arms, they have been named ‘njugu’ (peanuts) or ‘maharagwe’ (beans),” explains Morara.

Police Spokesperson, Zipporah Mboroki, calls on officers who may have the left government to volunteer any useful information.

“It is possible the rustlers receive funding and training from influential people,” she says. “This is our country and everybody has a responsibility to help the police to secure it.”

Such has been the discordance in the police operations to the extent there are perceptions that the often uneasy co-existence between the Administration Police and the Kenya Police comes into play whenever there is a security threat.

After the murder of 22 policemen, officers from either unit threw barbs at each other on social media and traded accusations about what might have gone wrong.

Police rivalry

On ‘Najivunia Kuwa Askari Mashinani,’ a Facebook page, Kenya Police officers took turns to ridicule the perceived weaknesses of APs, who can arrest criminals, but lack the power to charge them.

When this was pointed out to Mboroki, her response was: “If they (police) are afraid of integrity, then they are not officers of good morals. They should speak openly if they have any issues that need to be addressed.”

Col Mwema attributes the discordance in operations to absence of professionalism in our security apparatus.

“Professionalism has been thrown out of the window. Security is a commitment and should transcend ethnic and regional interests. For one to discharge efficient service, you must be given the tools and the equipment to work with,” he points out.

Primary aggressors

“From discussions with the county government, national government and security representatives, the team (KNCHR) felt that members of the Pokot community, Tiaty Constituency and beyond (West Pokot) were the primary aggressors in the conflict,” says the commission’s report.

The security situation in the region has been public knowledge from as far back as 2005 “when Pokot pastoralists were allowed access pasture in traditionally Ilchamus areas of Makutani and Sirata within Marigat Sub-county. At the time, the Pokot side (Baringo North and West Pokot) was experiencing drought.”