Develop North Rift region to end banditry menace

A man takes aim in Lokiriama, Turkana County. [Antony Gitonga, Standard]

The North Rift region is hurting again. The killing of 11 people who included eight security personnel, a chief and a known peace crusader in Turkana East confirmed it is now a desolate region of death and desperation.

As early as 2003, a study by Security Research and Information Centre found that there were 127,519 illicit firearms in Turkana, Samburu, West Pokot, East Baringo and Marakwet. Community security, prestige and retreating state institutions were cited by the study as the main reasons for the communal armament.

Another study conducted in 2011 by Kenya National Focal Point on Small Arms and Light Weapons, a state agency and Geneva-based Small Arms Survey found that there could be between 530,000 and 680,000 firearms in civilian hands nationally. North Rift and other Arid and Semi Arid Lands (ASAL) counties account for more than 60 per cent of these illicit arms.

To ameliorate the deteriorating security situation in the ASALs, the government has undertaken both voluntary and forceful disarmament operations to mop up the illicit arms. In Baringo, the government even encouraged civilians to register their arms with the authorities so as to reduce misuse. However, these attempts have been beset by lack of political goodwill as well as corruption blamed on poor stockpile management of government-owned arms.

The government should act by mobilising, empowering and deploying its security machinery to track down the so-called bandits. Profiling a community as bandits will end up entrenching the problem. The government should also resist attempts to label bandits as terrorists. Bandits are bandits without a known ideological leaning or narrative.

For long, the political class has tolerated inter-communal conflicts in the name of protecting "our people". The government should not buy this narrative of cattle rustling, dwindling grazing and watering resources, withdrawal of police reservists or bandits on the prowl. These have been excuses employed by political leaders and government security machinery to avoid accountability.

The government should consider the socio-economic transformation and integration of North Rift into the national economy. For example, Kerio Valley Development Authority did a feasibility study that established that lower Turkwel could be the biggest sugar belt in the country. Upper Turkwel has the potential of joining the likes of Israel and Egypt in fruit farming and export. The region is believed to hold the largest hydrocarbon reserves in Kenya.

Finally, enforcing the compulsory primary and secondary education will not only reduce illiteracy rates, but also cut down the next generation of bandits. What is needed is a massive investment in the education sector in the region. As a tweep noted, any "security operation" not designed to root out inequality and build community resilience against violence will always fail.

-Mr Pkalya is a conflict analyst