Government should listen to the people on how to end banditry menace

Police officers deployed to flash out bandits in Arabal location in Baringo south patrolling at Kasiela village on December 28, 2022. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

On February 13, 2022, I watched as the widow of police officer James Lopeyok narrated the pain she went through after she lost her husband in Kapedo in 2015. Consolata Ekeno lost her husband and sole breadwinner while he was in the line of duty. In 2014, bandits in Kapedo killed 21 police officers and three civilians. The National Police Service reported 47 police officer deaths and 77 injuries that year. Police officers have indeed paid the ultimate price to keep us safe. Regrettably, most of the officers slain in the line of duty are young and promising.

Ms Ekeno and millions of others in these troubled counties have been affected by constant banditry attacks. These communities cannot safely collect firewood or tend to their fields or cattle. Bandits have shot dead people herding goats near their homes and tilling their small farms in dry areas to feed their children. Recently, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki declared Turkana, West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo, Laikipia, and Samburu counties as "disturbed and dangerous".

The CS reported that bandits and cattle rustlers had ruthlessly murdered over 100 citizens and 16 police officers in the past six months. This necessitated the government to deploy the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) in the troubled North Rift region. For the last 10 years, the Pastoralist Parliamentary Group (PPG) has been pushing to end cattle rustling and inter-community conflict. However, it is known that there are people out there with different opinions. Eva Wangari's 2016 study, 'Trends in police militarisation, a case study of Kenya (2005-2015)' found that the military intervened in local conflicts at least three times in 2014.

The army was sent to disarm the local populace in Mandera County in May. They were dispatched to Marsabit County on September 21 to resolve the Gabra-Borana issue. In November, the army was sent to Kapedo to end the violence that had resulted in the deaths of 19 police officers and to recover weapons and ammunition that the bandits had stolen from the officers. This has been the trend for decades in bandit-prone areas. The government should avoid repeating its mistake by doing the same thing again and again.

Ms Wangari further observes that since military personnel are not trained to interact with civilians, they are oblivious to the constitutionally guaranteed preservation and protection of civil liberties. She adds that every time the military has intervened to restore order, civil rights and citizen freedom has been violated. I understand the context of insecurity in the region and this nonsense must come to end. However, what we are saying is that President William Ruto, CS Kindiki and operation commanders should have their ears on the ground, involve local leaders and listen to the people.

The communities know who steals livestock from their neighbourhoods, but are afraid to speak up because the government has historically ignored those silent voices even though they have the answers. All government needed to do is listen and bring those responsible to book. Collective punishment does not work since it breeds new grievances that will grow the next seed that carries conflict and tension.

Another solution is to open the marginalised areas by constructing access roads, model schools and digging boreholes and water dams. KDF has adequate equipment that can do an amazing job on that front. KDF should not only carry munitions and other deadly weapons, but it should also have equipment that will help build access roads, drill boreholes, and construct dams and schools in isolated areas to initiate new social economic projects. This double strategy will alter the dynamics on the ground and not only end banditry, but also bring lasting change to areas that have been ignored by successive governments since independence.