State banks on drones, special forces to end banditry in restive North Rift

Despite initial successes, there is a resurgence of organised criminal activity such as banditry and terrorism

In Summary

• Lack of sophisticated equipment has hurt efforts, Kenya has bought drones, APCs, helicopter gunships, other arms.

• After years of failed approaches, government now says they are optimistic they will drive outlaws into oblivion.

Some of the Special Forces during the launch of the equipment in Nairiobi
Some of the Special Forces during the launch of the equipment in Nairiobi
A member of the Special Forces during the launch of the equipment in Nairiobi
A member of the Special Forces during the launch of the equipment in Nairiobi

When bandits invaded farms in parts of Laikipia in 2021, the government deployed special forces and two drones to drive out the gangs.

By then, dozens of police officers and residents had died at the hands of bandits, who were ready for a war.

But after days of deploying drones for surveillance and other operations, the group was driven out as others were killed by the special forces.

The criminal bandit gangs then invaded many parts of North Rift with impunity.

After a number of failed campaigns and approaches, government officials now say they are optimistic they will drive outlaws into oblivion.

They emphasise they have achieved some successes before the resurgence of organised criminals.

This new confidence follows the acquisition of new drones and other equipment to fortify their operations in rugged and remote terrain.

The drones will be deployed to places such as Baringo, Isiolo, Turkana and Samburu.

These areas are the most affected by the organised gangs and rustlers, who killed as many as 80 people in recent months.

More than 2,500 people have been displaced.

The acquired equipment includes armoured personnel carriers (APCs), mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles (MRAPs), armoured unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones, gunship helicopters, mine sweepers and personal protection equipment to support frontline officers.

They were acquired from South Africa and Italy. The choppers are on the way, officials said.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki last week unveiled the new equipment to be used in the fight against crime, especially terrorism and banditry.

The special team to be deployed was also introduced. They are part of the government's ambitious plan to modernise security equipment over the five years for Sh37 billion.

Kindiki said the government remains focused on complete suppression and neutralisation of terrorism, banditry, livestock rustling and other organised criminal activities.

He said that is “the sure way of turning around our national security and putting Kenya on a firm path to equitable development and shared prosperity”.

The CS said the equipment and kitting of frontline officers remains a key deliverable priority for the Kenya Kwanza administration.

They are deployed in Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) in Northeastern, the Boni enclave in Lamu, Upper Eastern and North Rift.

Kindiki said in six months, the government has invested Sh7.6 billion and will spend another Sh29.4 billion in the next three years.

The procurement is under the Police Equipment Modernisation programme to acquire sophisticated protection and mobility equipment.

“We must neutralise and dominate the enemy from all angles and ensure our country is safe and our people are able to work, live and invest in peace and without any fear," Kindiki said.

The Interior CS commissioned and dispatched the first batch of equipment to support Operation Maliza Uhalifu in North Rift Valley.

It will be extended to the northern grazing areas of Meru, Isiolo and Marsabit counties.

It will fortify counter-terrorism efforts in Northeastern and the Boni Forest Enclave.

The event took place at the General Service Unit headquarters in Nairobi. 

Lack of equipment has been a major hindrance in the war against bandits and criminal gangs in the North Rift.

Kindiki declared they would face the same treatment as terrorists. 

“We are bringing in special forces to help deal with the hard core commanders of banditry. To ruthlessly pursue the livestock rustlers, we are deploying the same measures we've deployed to tackle terrorism," the CS said. 

"There is no difference between bandits and terrorists. Their ideology is the same and they must be shown no mercy."

He said Operation Maliza Uhalifu will persist until the  banditry menace has been decimated.

"The Operation Maliza Uhalifu will continue uninterrupted and for the long haul, until the problem of banditry and livestock rustling is completely eradicated and the areas affected by the menace are totally pacified," Kindiki said.

"This administration will open up the North Rift Valley region for development and economic growth."

He said the number of bandit commanders who have been neutralised or arrested is testament to the success of the operation.

Further citing “clear evidence” of success, Kindiki said many banditry attacks have been thwarted, a huge number of stolen cattle have been recovered and economic activities such as farming have returned to areas that were criminal hotspots.

He gave credit to “ongoing security operations and strategic measures established by multi-agency security officers”.

The CS also said the government plans to set up peace schools in the North Rift. 

The schools will enrol children from different communities who will be taught in an environment free from the bad influence of banditry and livestock rustling. 

"In that way, we will be creating a new generation that is not poisoned by negative things like banditry and livestock rustling," he added. 

"As a government, we believe that no child is a bandit. No child is born a criminal. They are taught these evil habits as they grow up."

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