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Government must dispel notion it is weak on security

EDITORIAL
By Editorial | November 27th 2013

KENYA: A potent mix of politics, economics and old ethnic scores is in danger of turning county boundaries into  war zones unless the Government moves quickly to resolve the disputes simmering across the country.

Whereas many of the warring communities are content to diffuse the resultant tensions peacefully through bilateral discussions across the table, the story is different among armed pastoral communities.

The blazing guns were hardly silent in the Tana and Marsabit counties when a heavily armed contingent of Pokot raiders nearly ignited a fire-storm in Lorogon Village, Turkana South County, last week, when they sought to force the Turkanas out of the land they considered their own.

The fact that the Pokots went to war to stop the Kerio Valley Development Authority (KVDA) from setting up a multi-billion sugar estate along the Turkwel River is disquieting, because it could send the wrong signal to investors that the area is not safe.

The disquiet is heightened by the fact that the incident came on the heels of similar disturbances in Turkana County that led to a two-week closure of oil drilling at Tullow Oil sites.

While the standoff was resolved after a negotiated settlement and Tullow Oil resumed  operations, the manner in which the Government handled the issue fell short for several reasons. First, those behind the almost violent confrontation won. This reinforced lessons learnt from the Moyale and Tana counties — where scores of people died and property worth millions of shillings was destroyed — that violence pays. Yet history teaches that crime escalates in countries where the criminal justice system fails to stamp its authority.

Whereas Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku might win pundits from individuals and institutions that champion human rights of criminals at the expense of law abiding citizens, he surely must be aware that the manner in which the whole incident was handled — complete with the double-speak — only emboldened those who are tempted to believe his ministry does not have the back-bone to tackle criminal elements head-on.

Kenya may pay a very high price for its failure to draw the line between what is acceptable and what is not. Surrounding a village or villages with close to 1,000 women, children, old and young and denying them access to food and water for almost one week is the height of impunity best left to third-rate movies.

A key duty of any Government is to provide its citizens with security. The Turkana in Lorogon are unlikely to be convinced that the Government has the power — or more than a periphery interest — in protecting them. The only way they—and the rest of the country can feel safe—is when Government finally draws a line in the sand against all those who seek to impose their will on their countrymen by force of arms.

After all, that is why our security forces are mandated to bear arms. Allowing rag-tag gangs to move around brandishing weapons will simply not do.

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