Informers — the enemies within frustrating war against bandits in North Rift


A Kenya Defence Forces vehicle with artery launchers on the Emining-Marigat Road in Baringo County on March 13, 2023. 

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

On Sunday, Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki revealed that the government had identified a handful of senior commanders in charge of the bandits in the North, as well as their spiritual leaders, political patrons, and the commercial beneficiaries of the gangs, and how they operate.

It followed what he termed as ‘25 days of meticulous intelligence gathering to establish the identity, stature, and sophistication of the networks perpetuating the insecurity in the troubled region.

According to the CS, one of them, a spiritual leader who has been providing prophetic support to the bandits, is in police custody. 

Nation.Africa has established that the criminal web does not stop with the spiritual leaders, political patrons, and commercial beneficiaries of banditry.

Also on the intricate web are informers within target communities and government structures, who feed bandits with intelligence, aiding them to carry out successful raids and ambushes on security officers.

Working closely in the network of armed criminals wreaking havoc in the troubled areas, local residents have revealed that the bandits get intelligence reports from informers on where to strike and escape routes to use, complicating the crackdown on the criminals terrorising parts of the Kenyan North.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki during a press briefing in Malaso area, Samburu County on Sunday March 12, 2023.

Photo credit: Geoffrey Ondieki I Nation Media Group

Nation. Africa has established that bandits collude with informers from the local communities, including chiefs, and security officers who get a share of the ‘loot’ after a successful raid.

A security officer who has served in banditry-prone counties reveals that they have intelligence about individuals who collude with the bandits for their gain.

SEcurity team

Police officers patrolling Kitale - Lodwar highway at Kainuk.

Photo credit: Sammy Lutta I Nation Media Group

“Despite the criminals carrying out a recce on villages before attacks, they have their people in the said areas who give them reports on who has the largest herds, where they graze, who is grazing, and any other important details. In most cases, these characters are paid after a successful raid, in terms of livestock or cash,” said the security officer.

The informers and their families are usually spared by bandits whenever there’s an attack.

“This is no longer the traditional cattle raids. It has transformed into organised crime and business involving several cartels, including security officers, chiefs, and locals, many of who are informers to the armed criminals,” said the security officer who sought anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Mr Richard Chepchomei, a resident of the volatile Chemoe village in Baringo North says informers in the porous villages have betrayed their communities by giving out details to the bandits.

“It is true some people are abetting the crime and have played a role in fanning conflicts in the war-torn areas. Though they are few individuals, the bandits have gained access to the targeted villages without much difficulty,” said Mr Chepchomei.

In the porous Baringo North and Baringo South, for instance, informers, particularly from the Tugen community, give out information to bandits from the neighbouring Pokot community, our source revealed.

Turkana bandits

Security personnel from Turkana pursue bandits.

Photo credit: Peter Warutumo | Nation Media Group

In an interview with NTV in February, former Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya commended Prof Kindiki’s approach to fighting the menace, saying his decision to first familiarise himself with the region and the challenges involved is commendable.

Mr Natembeya had shared his frustrations, and how police operations to flush out bandits would be bungled.

“It was frustrating when we gave out the coordinates to the pilots to carry out bombing on specific areas where bandits were, they were diverted elsewhere. Say we gave the aerial cover team North coordinates because the bandits were there, they dropped the bombs in the East or South directions. This is how banditry and cattle rustling has thrived – because of protection by powerful individuals,” he said. He was referring to frustrations in the attempt to flush bandits out of conservancies in Laikipia.

Bandits attacked a Turkana county government vehicle on Sunday and sprayed it with bullets. The occupants escaped unhurt.

Burnt police vehicles at KWS hotspot area on February 15, 2023, where four police officers were killed and seven injured by bandits.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

While outlining the second phase of the security operation to clean up the North of bad elements, Prof Kindiki revealed that heavily armed bandits are holed up in difficult terrain, remote, and inaccessible areas at the bottom of gorges, escarpments, caves, and ravines, some in the middle of hills spread across the region.

This is from where they emerge the commit the atrocities that have over the years caused loss of lives, property, and livelihoods and displaced thousands of people from their homes.

According to the officer we spoke to, most of the informers pose as livestock traders and are normally spotted at livestock markets.

“This is where they meet with the criminals and get their ‘dues’ in the guise of buying livestock for sale,” our source said.

He claimed that the informers also brief the bandits on the movement of police officers carrying out patrols, making them vulnerable to attacks by the criminals who lay ambushes.

“The vice had become so rampant that I resorted to walking on foot while carrying out patrols so that the locals do not know my moves and expose me to the bandits,” said the officer.

Some chiefs, he claimed, were also giving out information to the bandits to flee areas targeted for operation, frustrating government efforts to weed out the criminals.

“That is why it is hard sometimes to track the criminals. The chiefs do so to protect their livestock from being stolen by the bandits and also to get part of the loot. Chiefs who don’t cooperate with the bandits have been raided several times and the unlucky ones killed in the process,” he revealed.

In July 2017, police in Tiaty, Baringo County, arrested two chiefs who were wanted on suspicion that they were aiding and abetting banditry attacks.

The two were linked to the alleged ‘protection’ of suspected armed bandits in their constituency. In particular, they were linked to a bandit attack that occurred in Mochongoi, at the border of Baringo and Laikipia counties, which saw six police officers and four herders killed and several others injured during a fierce exchange of fire.

Then-County Commissioner Peter Okwanyo had said the two chiefs were ‘the most notorious’ in harbouring bandits linked to frequent attacks, ordering their arrest as prime suspects in the atrocities.

Bandits West Samburu

Three people were killed in Lkeek Sabuk area in Samburu West after armed bandits raided several villages on Saturday.

Photo credit: Geoffrey Ondieki | Nation Media Group

Some chiefs have also been on the spot in the porous Baringo North, Baringo South, and Tiaty sub-counties. Some of the ‘un-cooperating’ administrators have been attacked by armed raiders in the past and others lost their property while on duty.

Porous Silale ward

In 2014, Mr Moses Chongwo, an assistant chief from the Akwichatis sub-location in the porous Silale ward in Tiaty was shot in both legs by armed bandits while pursuing stolen livestock and suffered multiple fractures on both legs.

The administrator was in the company of three of his colleagues from the neighbouring Tugen community pursuing more than 50 goats stolen from Chelelyo village in Baringo North.

In another incident, a retired chief in the volatile Loruk in Baringo North Sub-County was killed by armed bandits suspected to be from the neighbouring Pokot community.

The incident happened when the 63-year-old former administrator, Wilson Chebungei, was taking his cattle to a grazing field when the criminals ambushed him.

Residents said the retired administrator had been threatened by unknown people because he had been vocal on boundary issues, which were at the centre of a dispute between the Pokot and the Tugen communities. He had recorded statements at Loruk police station.

In 2017, Ng’orora location (Baringo North) Chief Thomas Chebor Ruttok was gunned down by armed bandits on his way to Chepkokel to recover stolen livestock. He was killed five kilometers from Sibilo, where then-Deputy President William Ruto was having a peace meeting.

A year later, two chiefs sustained injuries after being beaten up by suspected cattle rustlers in Makany sub-location, Tangulbei Ward in Tiaty sub-county. The two were in the company of village elders who had gone to persuade bandits to return more than 45 cattle that had been stolen from Rumuruti in Laikipia County.

Orus Location Chief Josephine Lopuo and her assistant, Mr Daniel Ng'eleyo, were rescued by locals and rushed to a health centre with serious injuries.

In an interview, Mr Charles Toremo, a reformed bandit from Mnagei ward in West Pokot told Nation.Africa that they used to get information from local communities targeted for attack.

“No bandit can gain access to an area without the help of the inhabitants. When a criminal goes to spy on a certain village, let’s say Kainuk in Turkana, there are people from the community who play as tour guides and show them the escape routes and the target villages to be raided. When they succeed, they give a portion of the livestock to the informers,” said Mr Toremo.

“To conceal their racks, the informers are normally given money or other livestock not stolen from their community so that they are not suspected. They normally come for their dues months after the raid,” he revealed.

A police vehicle carries mourners to the burial of a bandit attack victim in Kapedo on the border of Turkana and Baringo

A police vehicle carries mourners escorting them to the burial of a bandit attack victim in Kapedo on the border of Turkana and Baringo Counties on February 17, 2023.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

He also claimed that some security officers deployed in the troubled areas assist bandits by giving them ammunition in exchange for livestock, or by giving them information about the community they intend to attack.

“The vice will not end if the said people are not stopped. Those informers including locals, chiefs, and security officers should face dire consequences if ending banditry is anything to go by,’ noted the reformed warrior.