Kenya: Anxiety in Bandit-Prone North Rift as Festive Season Approaches

30 November 2020

For many Kenyans, the December festive season is a time to enjoy and dine with families and friends.

However, for residents in the banditry-prone counties in the North Rift, this season sends chills down their spines as it is the time bandits wreak havoc in the region.

In Baringo South Sub-County, for instance, more than 10,000 residents, who have over the years been displaced from their homes in the banditry-prone Mukutani Division, have appealed to the government to relocate them back to their homes.

"Armed bandits have occupied our homes yet the government has the capacity to flush them out. Our people are living in deplorable conditions. We fear this will worsen as the rainy season approaches," said Amos Olesompija, a resident.

The residents' problems have been aggravated after Lake Baringo broke its banks, submerging their homes and more than 10 schools.

Fleeing to higher grounds

The situation is not different in the banditry-prone Bartabwa Division in Baringo North Sub-County where residents are said to be fleeing to higher grounds as the festive season approaches.

"These people have nothing to celebrate as the festive season brings untold suffering to them in the hands of armed bandits. The government should deal with this menace once and for all," said Mr Richard Chepchomei, an elder.

Rift Valley Regional Coordinator George Natembeya has, however, assured the residents that arrangements have been made to ensure that they will be safe during this period.

"More security personnel have been deployed to the areas we consider insecurity hotspots to ensure that everybody enjoys a peaceful festive season. We will not tolerate any form of lawlessness," said the administrator.

He ordered herders still in possession of illegal firearms to voluntarily surrender them, saying the guns are the main cause of runaway insecurity in the region.

"You should be asking yourselves if the perennial fights and livestock theft have yielded any fruits of development in the affected areas. If not, then we should give peace a chance," said Mr Natembeya.

Illegal guns

Interior Cabinet Sectary Fred Matiang'i recently issued an ultimatum to illegal gun owners to surrender them. He also ordered disarmament operations in the region but nothing much has been achieved so far.

Dr Matiang'i also ordered administrators in the insecurity-prone areas to give names of all suspects causing chaos in the region.

The region has continued to witness a surge in insecurity despite peace efforts by lawmakers, administrators and community leaders.

Leaders from the warring communities in West Pokot, Turkana, Samburu and Baringo counties launched peace caravans and talks last year in a bid to end insecurity caused by cattle raids.

The cattle raids and retaliations, which started in March 2016, have led to the killing of more than 100 people with thousands of livestock stolen. This has also retarded development in the region.

Just two weeks ago, in one of the most daring attacks, armed bandits suspected to be from Tiaty Sub-County attacked the volatile Kapedo area and drove away over 200 goats.

The attack came barely a day after more than 50 political leaders and a security team from the North Rift region held a meeting in a bid to preach peaceful co-existence among the warring neighbouring communities.

Resource-rich Kapedo

Scramble for resources has been cited as one of the factors fuelling conflict in the region with the Turkana and Pokot communities yet to agree on where the resource-rich Kapedo, at the border of Baringo and Turkana counties, falls. Each claims it is within their jurisdiction.

Baringo Governor Stanley Kiptis and his Turkana counterpart Josephat Nanok insisted that the warring communities should stop fighting over boundary issues because that is the mandate of the national government and not local people.

"It makes no sense to fight over boundary issues because it is not your mandate. Every Kenyan, according to the Constitution, has a right to live anywhere in this country. The culture of stealing livestock should cease because we have seen no one getting rich out of such acts," said Mr Nanok.

Governor Kiptis has stressed on the need to enrol children from the pastoralist communities in school. This, he said, will stop children from arming themselves and resorting to banditry.

The perennial raids have adversely affected education in the area with many schools closed since 2005.

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