About 350 newly purchased police assault weapons, part of a 10,000-gun consignment, were secretly transferred from Nairobi but intercepted in Nakuru.
The weapons, AK-47s and G3 rifles, were quietly removed from a police warehouse in Nairobi on New Year's Eve. They were intercepted by police in Nakuru where they are being guarded.
Details of the secret movement of the firearms have caused panic and speculation within the top circles of security chiefs at Jogoo House and in the Rift Valley.
Police Inspector General Joseph Boinnet did not respond to repeated phone calls and text messages seeking comment.
This clandestine gun transfer comes against a backdrop of rising political tensions and incendiary statements concerning the 2022 presidential succession.
Amos Gathecha, an official from the Office of the President, has told the police not to distribute guns or register current police reservists. Gathecha, in a letter written in October, said police should conduct an audit of the numbers of reservists and the guns issued to them before they proceed with further gun distribution.
Of the 10,000 weapons, Administration Police are to be issued 800. The Kenya Police are to receive 1,200 rifles, while the remaining 8,000 are to be distributed among police reservists in the rustling and bandit-prone Rift Valley and in Northeastern, which has been vulnerable to al Shabaab terror attacks.
Officers in the escort team told the Star 150 intercepted guns were in transit to Turkana North and 200 to Turkana South for use by police reservists.
Heavily armed security officers were deployed to escort the police lorries to their destinations.
Multiple highly placed sources within security circles told the Star the guns were confiscated on orders of Kenya Deputy Inspector General Edward Mbugua.
It is said the reason he gave was that the guns were being moved without his authority.
Mbugua is also said to have also directed Chief of Police Reservists Robert Kitur at police headquarters to stop further distribution of the weapons.
Reached for a comment yesterday, Kitur told the Star, “I am currently on leave and am not aware.”
The sources, speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue, said Mbugua directed outgoing Rift Valley Police Chief Francis Munyambu to hold the consignment pending instructions.
Yesterday, Munyambu declined to comment.
“I am leaving this region so I don’t want to talk of matters in this region. Please forgive me," Munyambu told the Star on the phone.
Munyambu is among the top police chiefs who have been moved in the latest changes announced by the IG.
Edward Mwamburi, a former traffic chief in Nairobi, is taking over as the Rift Valley Regional Commander. Munyambu will be moving to police headquarters, Vigilance House.
Sources said at least two high-level meetings were held last year to discuss, among other issues, the government's plans to arm police reservists in Rift Valley. Many residents have demanded reservists be armed to fight off rustlers and bandits.
The meetings at the Defence College in Karen were attended by the top police brass, including the IG and his deputies, Interior Cabinet secretary Fred Matiang'i, Interior PS Karanja Kibicho and Kenya Defence Forces officials.
Mbugua and his fellow deputy, Noor Gabow, are said to have opposed arming police reservists, especially in North Rift. Matiang’i and Kibicho were equally opposed.
All the police commanders, save for Boinnet, the sources said, also opposed the proposal.
However, the same team agreed to arm police reservists in 30 Northern Kenya villages that bordering Somalia.
The top security chiefs agreed that each village should have at least 10 police reservists who would be issued with firearms to fight against al Shabaab.
“In Northeastern, the invaders are outsiders and it made a lot of sense to provide the reservists with guns,” one source said.
By contrast, he said that in Rift Valley two communities are fighting over cattle and therefore it should be best left to the police.
Word of the guns transfer has caused anxiety. Some top cops at Vigilance House have questioned the timing of the movement, noting there is already heightened tension in the Rift Valley because of early campaigning and talk of 2022 succession.
There have been complaints that police commanders are overwhelmingly members of one community.
Top police are said to fear the guns could end up in the wrong hands and be used attack neighbouring communities. They want proper vetting and documentation of reservists.
Video clips of politicians and supporters issuing veiled threats concerning President Uhuru Kenyatta's succession have started circulating on social media.
Police chiefs worry that some statements made by political leaders and their supporters could raise tensions, possibly triggering violence.
The Rift Valley, due to its multi-ethnic population, has in the past been identified as a political hotspot.
The region was worst hit by the 2007-08 post-election violence that lead to the death of more than 1,000 people; about 650,000 people were displaced from their homes.
Last week a man identified as Dennis Kiptoo Mutai sent a chilling message on Twitter, which seemed to target a section of the community living In the Rift Valley.
“Am not issuing any threats or inciting anybody. But I must say a bitter truth to Kenyans. If #Uhuru betrays #Ruto, then Everyone should be prepared for the repeat of 2007-08. It's going to be worst. Uhuru can’t take us for a ride; we are not his A**hole. Deni lazima ilipwe,” he said.
Police fear that such statements could trigger fear and violence and therefore the arming of police reservists should be stopped.
In December, Matiang'i ordered all gun holders to surrender weapons for fresh vetting and issuance of new licenses.
After expiry of the deadline to turn in weapons next month, the police are expected to conduct a mop-up of all illegally held guns.
Sources in the Interior ministry indicated that after this, the government plans to disband the Kenya Police Reserve and deploy enough Regular Police in areas where the reservists operate
They said it doesn't make security sense to arm one community against another within the same region.