- Kenya has grappled with banditry since pre-independence, a gun culture that goes back to World war II, precipitated by the arming of communities bordering Ethiopia.
Yet another operation? Yet another amnesty? These are the question lingering in the minds of Kenyans as the National Police Service -Kenya Defences Forces (NPS-KDF) Joint operation to deal with banditry kicks in the Northern Frontier districts.
Kenya has grappled with banditry since pre-independence, a gun culture that goes back to World war II, precipitated by the arming of communities bordering Ethiopia.
From Kenya, Uganda, Sudan and Somalia, the Britons armed local militias to keep a check on the Italian ruler Benito Mussolini's expansion towards the British protectorates, a war that was dubbed the "East African Campaign or Abyssian campaign".
Both belligerents created and armed local militias to fight on behalf of and alongside.
It is from this colonial arming and consequent complex historical, social, economic and political factors that a gun culture cum Banditry was born and has persistently over the years affected the Northern frontier districts.
Whereas the British and the Italian colonialists reached an armistice, the guns did not go silent.
All government regimes including the colonial government have years tried to undo the gun culture; from an amnesty to disarmament to enactment of curfews and a repeat of the same, the current one must be the hundredth one.
All without yielding fruits.
Is it a case of the definition of insanity as per Albert Einstein; doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result?
Just to hypothesize, the biggest problem in the gun culture experienced in Kenya's Northern frontier districts is not the presence of animals to be stolen in raids or conflict on resources but the proliferation of arms in the affected areas.
Would banditry exist if all the cattle died? What if the affected areas were farming fruits, would they steal the fruits with guns? Or rather would they guard the fruit farms with guns? If the banditry is fanned by unscrupulous meat traders would the business continue without guns?
It would be agreeable to say that cattle rustling and stealing of animals as a culture would be tolerable crimes without shootings and killings being practised.
The problem is basically- guns and the presence of guns.
For years, Amnesties and disarmament exercises have been conducted but the guns have never gone silent; Marakwet, Turkana, Samburu Baringo and all affected counties do not produce guns, and neither do they have a history of gun-making.
Of the surrendered ones, none of them is homemade to assume that the bandits make their guns, some of them are sophisticated assault rifles used by advanced militaries in combat.
Where do the guns and the matching ammo come from? How do they reach the bandits in the bushes and hide out? Definitely, the guns come from a source, and from the source, there is a route down to the valleys and gorges where the bandits' armouries are replenished.
The proliferation of arms in the North is largely attributed to our porous borders and geographical placement of neighbouring warring communities in our neighbouring countries, this contributes to the gun culture that has eventually bred the banditry we are witnessing.
The current joint operation between KDF and NPS brings an operational capability not limited to combat.
The introduction of KDF into the course brings capability in intelligence gathering, surveillance and reconnaissance, this comes in handy in the identification of the sources of supplies and the routes used to deliver the same.
As part of a short-term plan, there is an urgent need to set up permanent military and paramilitary camps spread along the borders, along the known ammunition routes and inside affected areas just like it was in the case of Mt. Elgon's conflict.
The setting up of Kaptama and Kapkota military camps drove the huge success of the operation.
Such camps would serve as forward operating bases (FOB) for the troops' easy surveillance and deployment and would mean proper employment of a 3D security approach (Detect, Deter and Destroy).
Engaging the bandits in combat, disarmament and amnesty without closing the sources, and cutting off the routes is basically a case of drawing water into a net.
They will in the course acquire new, better and more sophisticated weapons at the loss of what they have but with a proper surveillance plan, the troops can engage the bandits in continuous prolonged combat without disarming them driving them to depletion of supply without a source of replenishment.
On the above note, the real solution to silencing guns requires a multifaceted strategy with short-term, medium-term and long-term plans and goals.
Whereas the problem in the North requires ongoing security ops intervention, it is not solely a security issue.
When the guns will eventually go silent from the above combat strategy, the people in the affected areas will be starving, and flattened and their economy will at that point be dead if not at a standstill.
It is then we will realize banditry is not just a security issue. It is an agricultural issue, it is a trade issue, it is a cultural issue, it is a water issue, it is a development and infrastructural issue, and a health and educational issue.
We need to see all Cabinet secretaries in the above sectors swinging into action. It is not a Kindiki issue.
As a long-term plan, there is a need to change the socio-economic activities of the people in the affected areas to something sustainable.
This means seeing researchers and agricultural extension officers setting the base for the best alternative to the unsustainable nomadic pastoralism and an excuse to banditry. Where is the CS Agriculture?
One of the greatest challenges to security operations in these areas is inaccessibility, and lack of or minimal motorable roads inside the operation area hindering the response time of government action.
From the history of Kenya, whenever and wherever there is an infrastructural project business thrive, towns prop up and livelihood change, socio-economic activities change.
How about seeing the CS Roads and Infrastructure swinging into action to open up these areas?
"Twende Kerio Valley" a documentary by Nation Media's NTV in February of 2022 covered a Kerio Valley not known by many.
Away from banditry stories, the documentary covered fruit farming in the banditry-prone area.
Not known to many, the area does good in the production of very healthy mangoes, watermelons and tomatoes.
Imagine, if the CS Roads brought them roads and the CS Water and Irrigation revived Arror and Kimwarer dams and the same be replicated in all other banditry-infested areas with a further good example being drawn from the successful Katilu irrigation scheme in Turkana.
When the guns fall silent the young combatants need to be reintegrated and not flattened, they have proved they are resilient.
Resilience can be tapped into skills from vocational and training facilities. How about seeing Education CS swinging into action to set up TVETs in the areas?
"A war can perhaps be won single-handedly. But peace - lasting peace - cannot be secured without the support of all." - Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva.
Kiyo Nganga , Criminologist and Security Expert, Head of Strategic Services at Armistice Security Consult International.