Garissa — At least five former Kenyan police informants say they are withdrawing their services over lack of payment promised to them for information they provided on al-Shabaab activities, inter-clan clashes and political incitement.
"It is a risky job to spy on the terrorist group, yet the government cannot even reimburse us the money for the expenses we incur," said Abdi Mohamed, a 33-year-old resident of Garissa County who requested a pseudonym over fears of al-Shabaab reprisals.
In a letter addressed to Kenyan Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo dated June 1st, Mohamed and four others claiming to be police informants, including one woman, said they decided to "close the doors of information" because they were not being paid for the services they provided.
"The terror attackers have been targeting us and the security agents have been ignoring our call for help," they say in the letter.
"Be aware that all informers of security agents have withdrawn their services due to lack of support from the security agents even after they were targeted by the attackers," the letter reads. "Our welfare is not catered for. Our colleagues in Mombasa have also been targeted... "
Mohamed told Sabahi he was recruited in 2009 by a Kenyan National Intelligence Services officer with whom he was friends, and that he provided information on incitement by local politicians, smuggling of arms, sugar and petroleum products in the area, and signs of impending clan clashes over grazing land and water.
"Despite being promised to be paid at least 10,000 shillings for any valuable information, I was never paid until January 2013, when I was placed on 6,000 shillings monthly stipend," he said, adding that he is still receiving the money.
Mohamed said that on numerous occasions he tried to resolve the compensation issue with local security authorities, but to no avail. "They kept promising and arguing that their bosses in Nairobi were dealing with the issue," he said.
"We are raising the issue now because of the additional work of monitoring al-Shabaab," he said, adding that he is speaking on behalf of the informants in north-eastern Kenya because he helped recruit them. "We are also being targeted, live in fear and lack pay commensurate with the risky job we are doing."
Further, Mohamed showed Sabahi a text message exchange he had with Kimaiyo on May 29th.
Mohamed had written: "Motivate us and send us some money to meet some of our needs."
Kimaiyo replied: "I am very much sorry brother. First of all I don't have money to buy information. But I can work with all citizens and a citizen comes out to work with us that is when they will be commended and given different kind of gifts including money. Just work for our people and payment will come later."
Mohamed said that such response from a police boss was frustrating and deflated the informants' morale.
Sabahi attempted to reach Kimaiyo to respond to the informants' claims, but the inspector general did not reply to repeated requests for comment.
Informants risk lives to penetrate al-Shabaab:
Said Ali, 35, one of the informants in Garissa who signed the letter and also requested that his real name not be published out of fear of al-Shabaab retribution, said another concern of his was that the information they provide to security forces could end up in the wrong hands.
"It is a risk because the information you are giving may find its way to al-Shabaab members and it could be turned against us," he told Sabahi. "How do you explain the killing of the informers in Mombasa if it is not some of the security officers setting us up with the militants and their sympathisers?"
Ali was referring to three separate incidents since December last year in which alleged police informants were killed.
In the first incident, suspected al-Shabaab members beheaded and dumped the body of Islamic school teacher and police informant Faiz Mohammed Bwarusi at Mambrui beach near Malindi. Then in January, suspected al-Shabaab sympathisers shot and killed counter-terrorism agent Ahmed Abdalla Bakhswein. In May, Alyaan Mohamed, who was also said to be a police informant, was shot and killed at his house in Kilifi County.
While it is the duty of every citizen to co-operate with the police, Ali said, fulltime informants should be compensated considering the risks they face.
Ali said he was recruited to inform on al-Shabaab activities through a close friend in the police force in February 2012.
"I was promised 10,000 shillings for every [piece of] information that the security authorities verified as reliable," he said, adding he has never received any money.
"Before al-Shabaab came into the picture I would not have minded giving the information to the government for free," Ali said. "But penetrating al-Shabaab is dangerous and requires time and money to crack. Sometimes we are required to travel to Somalia to gather information or make calls. That is why we want at least to be funded for the information gathering exercise."
Ali, who is a Somali-Kenyan, says he visits Somalia to gather information on the pretext that he is visiting relatives.
"If the government cannot place us on a payroll, then it should be able to pay for the information that it has authenticated leading to foiling attacks or arrests," he said.
Government 'greatly indebted' to co-operation of informants:
Head of the Kenyan Anti-Terrorism Police Unit Boniface Mwaniki said he was not aware of any informant who has withdrawn their services.
"We are greatly indebted for the co-operation the public has given us in the war on terror," he told Sabahi. "The information we receive from the general public has been valuable in foiling numerous attacks. But I am not aware of any informant who is disgruntled with the government."
Mwaniki said security forces rely on the collaboration of regular citizens and that they take all tips seriously. He also said that the identities of government informants are kept secret for their own and their families' safety.
"Our relationship with individual informants is cordial and their welfare is catered for. How we pay or do not pay the people we work with should not be in the public domain," Mwaniki said. "We wish more people would become their neighbours' keeper by reporting suspicious people who could be detrimental to the safety of the country."
For his part, Wajir County Police Commander David Kirui also did not comment on the informants' allegations, but he urged all Kenyans to continue working with security agencies to help to combat extremism.
"An informer is a good citizen who contributes to the larger good. Everybody should play part because it is a concerted effort to foil a crime," he told Sabahi.
"It will be a big blow to the fight against al-Shabaab...if we lose the co-operation of the public and more so the informers," he said, adding that they treat all information and informants with confidentiality.