- In recent years, however, the problem has escalated, with banditry taking on a new dimension.
- Analysts say, today, criminal gangs have taken over the region, and they are using sophisticated weapons to carry out attacks.
President William Ruto's move to deploy the military to the troubled North Rift counties to flash out bandits has triggered sharp reaction, with critics warning it could flop.
The President last week ordered that Kenya Defence Forces join the police in a joint operation to silence the bandits' guns across the five counties.
The joint operation has been bolstered by the Ministry of Interior's imposition of a dusk to dawn curfew, with President Ruto daring to succeed where his predecessors failed.
Some leaders have cautioned that the military deployment will no proffer a lasting solution to the banditry menace that has left thousands homeless, tens of security officers dead and locals maimed.
Former Mandera Senator Billow Kerrow warned that the government's latest move might not wipe out the insecurity problem in the targeted regions and would lead to punish ordinary and innocent Kenyans. There are fears of abuse of human rights.
“This approach is badly timed,” Kerrow said, insisting that it would have not been allowed in the middle of 'sever drought and famine'.
“The government of Kenya must address underlying causes of this insecurity, which is economic deprivation, hunger, marginalisation and underdevelopment,” he said.
According to the former Senator, use of brute force will not be the solution to the insecurity situations ravaging the North Rift.
“You can't use same failed strategies in the past 60 years in the neglected North and expect different results. Deploy security officers from local communities, if any and see results. Listen to local leaders for home-based solutions,” the leader proposed to the government.
Banditry has been a thorn in the flesh for past regimes, even as it morphs into a well-knit criminal gang that analysts opine is oiled by influential and powerful elements.
The criminals have taken over parts of the North Rift, staging bold raids, killing and maiming populations and driving a way thousands of cattle.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki has declared Turkana, West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo, Laikipia and Samburu counties as "disturbed " and "dangerous", paving the way for military action.
Military jets had late yesterday afternoon started hovering over parts of the troubled Northern Rift Valley, signaling the arrival of KDF troops.
The soldiers have been assigned to execute what has been described as a painful but decisive operation to rid the region of criminals behind the banditry menace.
Political leaders in the region, who had demanded deployment of the army, have acknowledged that it comes with a cost, with some calling for the suspension of the exercise and rooting for dialogue instead.
However, analyst Micheal Mugwang'a backed the deployment of the military in the fight against bandits in the North Rift.
Mugwang'a argues that while the deployment of the military to fight banditry has been a contentious issue in the country, the reality on the ground calls for urgent action.
“Deploying the military could be the best option to restore peace and stability in the region,” Mugwang'a writes for the Star (see column on page 14).
“Deploying the military could change the dynamics of the situation and provide a much-needed boost to the government's efforts to restore peace. The military has the training, equipment, and manpower needed to take on the criminal gangs and neutralize their threat,” he said.
But former National Assembly Deputy Speaker and Dadaab MP Farah Maalim warned that the military should not be deployed to address internal security threats.
“The military is strictly/solely for national defence to protect us from external threats. There are elite police units like ASTU, GSU and RDU. We have profound state marginalisation of pastoralist communities in Kenya. Social/developmental interventions key to peace in North Rift,” Maalim said.
With the military moving to put the boots on the ground, area leaders are blaming the government for the escalation of the insecurity situation in the North Rift.
West Pokot Governor Simon Kachapin argues that the government's plan to arm the National Police Reservists did not work, claiming only those from one community were given guns.
“We were surprised when the government issued guns to NPR to only one community leaving us vulnerable,” the Governor said in an interview.
Kachapin argued that previously, leaders from the county have given the government proposals on how to tame insecurity, including fairly recruiting and arming NPR from the affected communities.
“It looks like the [previous] government relaxed, but this is our government. We will direct blame to the minister responsible,” he said.
Turkana Senator James Lomenen regretted that their people are being killed and their livestock stolen by heavily armed Pokot bandits.
“They are heavily armed and stage brazen attacks even in broad daylight, driving away cattle and killing our people because they are supplied with guns by well-known people,” he claimed.
Kacheliba MP Titus Lotee said several complaints had been lodged at the Independent Policing Oversight Authority over what they feel is unfair treatment by security officers.
“Why arrest Pokots and take them to court in Lodwar or Kitale? Let them close the Kapenguria court if our people won’t be tried there. We need respect as the Pokots,” he said, urging the government to be neutral.
“We shall tell our people not to revenge. Pokots are peace-loving people. We have more than 200,000 Turkanas staying in West Pokot, so why brand the Pokot community as killers?” he asked.
Last week, Pokot leaders held a peace rally at Chesegon on the West Pokot-Elgeyo Marakwet border and demanded dialogue with President Ruto over the insecurity, claiming the Pokot community was being unfairly targeted.
On Monday, former Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya detailed the complexities of the banditry menace in the North Rift, saying financiers are holed up in Nairobi.
According to Natembeya, politicians are the main beneficiaries of cattle rustling and banditry, introducing a commercial twist to the menace.
Natembeya said after the bandits steal cattle, they are transported to Nairobi, where they are slaughtered and sold to city residents.
"You guys eat these animals in Nairobi and this is a statement of fact. I'm not speculating because if 1,000 cows are stolen from Ilchamus and taken to Laikipia Nature Conservancy, for instance, they will open a serious road where you'll see but they disappear into thin air," Natembeya said.
"You go to Dagoretti slaughterhouse, try to look for the horns of those cows slaughtered there and you won't find any because people identify their cows using horns. The good people of Nairobi eat these animals. You are funding banditry in the Rift Valley," Natembeya said on Citizen TV.
Edited by Eliud Kibii