Hits and misses in war against fierce bandits in the North Rift

Interior CS helping in the rehabilitation of classrooms at Cheptulel Boys High School in West Pokot County. [File, Standard]

The battle to reclaim peace in the troubled North Rift region has been a mixed bag of successes and failures.

Locals from the region hit hard by banditry say they hope for a peaceful 2024.

The guns went silent in several banditry hotspots across Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo, West Pokot, Turkana, Samburu and Laikipia counties, but bandits continued to wreak havoc.

A military operation dubbed Maliza Uhalifu North Rift which started earlier in the year, is still ongoing in some areas.

As reported by local administrators, attacks shifted from grazing fields where cattle theft was rife to villages where revenge raids took place.

Bandits also caused fears in major highways in the region. For example, highway banditry along Kitale-Lodwar road linking the North to South Sudan worsened earlier in the year before guns went silent in the last quarter of 2023.

Fatal shootouts among herders and bandits, however, continued along the volatile borders of West Pokot and Turkana.

Last week, a herder was shot dead in Turkwel. Scores were killed along the Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot border in the last three months.

Several access roads aimed at enhancing the movement of police officers and National Police Reservists in pursuit of armed cattle thieves commenced.

Kamologon road, leading to a bandit hideout on the border of Marakwet and West Pokot, was established, and two others linking Elgeyo Marakwet and Tiaty in Baringo County opened.

However, a plan to refurbish schools abandoned for months following banditry attacks was not completed.

Turkana County Commissioner Jacob Ouma said in November that 15 primary schools in Turkana East and South sub-counties were abandoned.

Illegal firearms

Ouma said several illegal firearms were voluntarily surrendered by locals in some areas of Turkana East and South.

“We laud locals for surrendering illegal guns to authorities. We assure them that security will be enhanced so that they do not feel that they have been exposed to vulnerabilities. Criminals who will continue wreaking havoc will be dealt with,” he said.

KDF soldiers reconstructing classes at Chesitet Primary School in Tiaty, after being destroyed by bandits. [Yvonne Chepkwony, Standard]

The administrator clarified that the proposed establishment of a GSU post near Kainuk was part of the government’s plan to enhance security in the region following increased highway attacks.

In January 2023, elders from areas rocked by banditry in Turkana raised concerns after bandits targeted school children.

Charles Lowoi recalls that two junior secondary school learners at the Nakuse Primary School in Kainuk were among victims injured during an attack. Some classrooms were torched, solar systems vandalised, and books, desks and roofs destroyed.

“Deadly attacks forced hundreds of residents of Nakuse and Lokwar villages to move their children to secure villages. They also abandoned farming. We expected that such areas would have been prioritised,” said Lowoi.

“Our long wait for reconstruction of schools is still painful as bandits reign supreme along the border.”

He observed that several schools had been repaired, with several others being refurbished ahead of reopening next month.

Lowoi said soldiers operating from Loyapat village have to juggle between security patrols at the expansive border of Turkana and West Pokot to respond to cattle rustling incidents, highway attacks between Lami Nyeusi and Kalemngorok along Kitale - Lodwar road and new tact of attacking boda boda operators and their passengers.

The Parliamentary Committee on Security early this month said it would summon Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki. The committee toured Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot counties to assess the situation and received proposals from elected and opinion leaders.

Saku MP Dido Rasso, who led the team, faulted Prof Kindiki for delays in the deployment of NPRs to some hotspots.

“The ongoing military and police joint operation has yielded results in some parts of Turkana and Samburu. We have seen calm in those areas in recent months,” he said.

Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Wisley Rotich asked the committee to help fight against banditry through stringent laws.

“I called on the MPs to legislate a law that will categorise banditry as terrorism, among several other proposals,” Rotich said.

“I am happy that the team came to the ground to listen to the people and get raw information, away from boardroom decisions that have been relied on in the past.”

But some leaders complained that the had been left out of the build peace and repair infrastructure. Turkana Governor Jeremiah Lomorukai, Woman Rep Cecilia Ngitit and South Turkana MP John Ariko Namoit said politicians were major stakeholders.