The operation to restore peace in several counties in the North Rift that started in February is having the desired effect if the silence of guns over the past two months is an accurate indicator of the start of a decisive turn away from the dreaded sounds of gunfire, raids for animals and undeserving deaths of many.
It is too early for the celebratory jig but it certainly should lighten up Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki’s unsmiling face.
When the operation to restore peace was ordered by President William Ruto in February, it was received with healthy skepticism given the history of failed attempts to tackle what had become an unhealing security sore across the Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo, West Pokot, Turkana, Laikipia, Samburu and Marsabit counties.
Over the years, hundreds of innocent men, women and children have died, caught in the crossfire of bandits and raiders on the one part and herders protecting their livestock on the other. Efforts to tackle the menace had led to the deaths of scores of security officers, some of them quite senior.
It was the sense that the bandits had no fear or respect for security agencies that led many to believe that this operation was going to be just another show of hollow bravado that would wither away quickly and a quiet retreat of the forces affected.
But that has not happened. Professor Kindiki, initially derisively laughed off as the very antithesis of the vigour and forceful personality that could stir fear in the bandits, is quietly having the last laugh. Not all wars are necessarily won through brawn, grit and grenades at the battlefront.
Plenty of battles are often won off the field, and the fragile peace of the last two months is the early sign of the victory of some of these off-field battles.
Indeed, a lot more must be done to entrench the off-the-battlefront efforts if this peace is to be sustained into the months and years to come. Of course, firm actions like enforcing dawn-to-dusk curfews and restricting movements must be sustained over the medium term because hardened bandits don’t just convert overnight.
This is the moment when the President’s resolve to truly invest in lasting peace and transformational initiatives must be applied. He has promised that there is going to be a permanent Kenya Defence Forces presence in those areas to support the police in enforcing peace, not in executing security operations that involve active combat, but to support other key initiatives.
Roads, hospitals, schools and other facilities need to be built very quickly and efficiently. Our soldiers in the engineering corps can lead this effort better than most. Their reassuring presence will give confidence to farmers and livestock keepers to engage more purposefully in their vocations. Entrepreneurs from other parts of the country will flock here making this vast, highly productive territory truly open for business.
School calendars will finally run without interruption and services like health, extension schemes, library services and other government services offered through the Huduma centres will also be brought closer to the people. It will finally be possible for the vast majority of residents in these counties to become “independent”, six decades after the rest of the country!
And all these must be done with a keen eye on preservation of the ecosystem because the unanticipated and negative effects of climate change have now emerged as the most dangerous foe to sustainable human development.
Many parts of the country are feeling the heat of climate change with unfamiliar rain patterns, extreme weather conditions, etc. Human activity, especially deforestation and unscientific agricultural practices, have accelerated the progression of negative impacts.
The current peace should allow diverse peace-building and developmental support efforts to find relevance and traction in the area. The Catholic Church launched the North Rift Initiative last week to reconcile warring communities.
This is a clear recognition of the fact that someone that has used a gun to maintain his livelihood for years will not find it easy to switch. Apart from presenting opportunities that provide livelihoods, the mental shift required to shed gun addiction is something that has to be worked on.
However, the biggest challenge confronting the government as it nurtures this early peace will be one of resources. In the frenzy of competing interests in which debt repayment and spending prudence is the standout priority, President Ruto’s government must ring-fence billions of shillings to maintain the peace and pay to keep the transformative momentum.
It will not be easy but he has been advised time and again that with the right approach and focus to end wastage and corruption, a lot of the scarce resource headache will ease off.
Mr Mshindi, a former editor-in-chief of Nation Media Group, is now consulting. [email protected]; @TMshindi