What the government must do to end menace of bandit attacks

As usual, tough-talking government officials will soon be in the media detailing how they are going to mount an operation never seen before to wipe out bandits and banditry in the region once and for all. This is despite having lost security officers in the same region in the hands of bandits over the years.

As the dust settles on this particular attack, just like on previous ones, nothing much has been done. Not even a single bandit has so far been brought to book, or any firearm stolen from the departed officers recovered.

Sadly, but as a matter of fact, this means that we can only expect another bandit attack and lose of lives again as the bandits are emboldened by inaction on the part of the government.

Having served in the area in the past, I can tell for sure that a long-term solution does not lie in the haphazard, reactive security operations that are mounted in the wake of attacks. Commanders serving in the region know that too well but are forced to do with what clueless officials in high-end offices in Nairobi suggest for fear of contradicting their seniors. This is despite understanding the ground better.

I feel the government is doing little in solving this menace. These bandits are not the type to be annihilated in pitched battles and haphazard security operations. For sure, their ambushes are deadly; they use direct fire and are able to hold ground for hours taking advantage of the defensive positions.

The bushy and hilly terrain in these regions is a plus to them as this offers cover from fire while the security personnel are left exposed in the open. In any security operation, no officer would wish to encounter an ambush since chances of survival are minimal.

To solve this menace, the government should employ the following strategies. First, counties prone to banditry such as West Pokot, Baringo, Samburu and Turkana should be dominated by security and military facilities. To start with, military and police training facilities should be relocated to these areas.

An armoured personnel carrier deployed to flush out bandits in Kasiela, Baringo South. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Currently, we have over 10 recruits, cadet and senior command training institutions but none is located in these counties. With these facilities spread in these counties, the presence of security personnel and equipment such as vehicles bringing in supplies and officers on training doing exercises such as root march, will likely dominate the area, thus deterring lawlessness.

Secondly, the government should establish operational camps in every sub county or ward in these counties. These camps should be occupied by GSU and RDU personnel. These camps should have adequate personnel and supplies.

Since most officers don't like being deployed in operational area, majority find excuses such as feigned sickness and fake medical reports to avoid these zones. It is common to find a camp in an operational zone with an establishment of, say 96 officers, having a strength of only 26 officers.

Third, the government should improve infrastructure in these regions. In particular, roads should be opened up and tarmacked. Bad road network hampers security operations and enables conditions for laying ambush.

With tarmacked roads and clearings, vehicles are able to move smoothly and fast, making them a difficult target. This is what has reduced road attacks and ambushes in Lamu and Mandera counties. With tarmacked roads, security reinforcements and patrols are also able to arrive in time.

Fourth, there should be deliberate attempt to empower these communities, particularly through education and economically. These regions still lag behind in these two aspects of development. Dropout rates are higher than in other regions. Education, as they say, is the catalyst for change; change from banditry and cattle rustling to law-abiding.

The solutions are that simple. President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda used similar strategies to pacify restive Karamoja region in Eastern Uganda. He went a step further and introduced Ministry for Karamoja Affairs that specifically dealt with challenges in cattle rustling in Karamoja. Over to you, government.