Is banditry returning to troubled North Rift?

An armored military vehicle scaling the road across Kapedo bridge in a past picture.

An armored military vehicle scaling the road across Kapedo Bridge in a past picture. Locals in the North Rift region have known no peace after the bandits defied combined security agencies to carry out the brazen attacks.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

After a lull in gunfire following a sustained security operation in some of the troubled North Rift counties, bandit killings have increased in West Pokot, Turkana, Baringo and Elgeyo Marakwet counties.

In the past week, at least six people have been killed and others, including a child, injured in the latest attacks, which occurred on Sunday afternoon when a 21-year-old man was felled by the bandit's bullets in the now infamous Kamologon forest on the border of Elgeyo Marakwet and West Pokot counties.

The attacks followed another in Psitona, where a young boy who was also due to enter one of the local universities this month was killed by the bandits, who are believed to be hiding in Kamologon forest.

For over a month now, locals in the region have known no peace after the bandits defied combined security agencies, including Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) troops and several police units, to carry out the brazen attacks.

Questions are now being asked by locals as to whether the multi-agency security team involved in the ongoing operation in the region is losing the war against banditry.

The locals are up in arms, calling on the government to root out the bandits who are still roaming and wreaking havoc in the region, and to strictly implement President William Ruto's directive to eliminate all bandits still marauding in the region.

“We have been enjoying peace for almost three months now but the unfolding scenario is threatening the tranquility and we want the government to immediately arrest all the perpetrators. President Ruto had warned the bandits to leave Kenya, go to jail or face death and we want this to be implemented immediately so that we can enjoy sustainable peace,” said Mr Harrison Yano, one of the locals.

According to Mr Yano, the criminals are known because the names have been given to the authorities and there should be no excuse as to why they are still wreaking havoc.

"The KDF should completely disarm the locals because they are responsible for the current spate of killings. There will only be peace when the criminals are wiped out and the weapons that are still in the wrong hands are wiped out," he opined.

Embobut/Embolot ward representative Paul Kipyatich told the Nation that the police were complicit in the situation.

"The criminals are few and known and it is very easy to crush them if the security forces want to eliminate them. Some rogue officers are colluding with the criminals because once they are arrested, the next day you will find them roaming around killing and maiming," he said.

He said many people living near Kamologon forest have fled their homes for fear of attacks, and urged Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki for Home to ensure that a KDF camp is set up immediately as promised.

A long view of Kapedo bridge where many people, including security officers have been ambushed and killed by bandits

A long view of Kapedo bridge where many people, including security officers have been ambushed and killed by bandits lying in wait on the cliffs above.

Photo credit: Florah Koech | Nation Media Group

Marakwet East MP Kangogo Bowen said it was unfortunate that bandits had resumed the merciless killings in the region, but this time in the full presence of all security forces led by the KDF.

"It is unfortunate that the officers are confined to their camps and cannot act to stop an attack until they receive orders from Nairobi. By the time they get the orders, they only go to collect bullet-riddled bodies of innocent people slaughtered by the bandits," the MP said.

He cited the recent attacks in Psitona village, Kapyego County, which took place next to a GSU camp and separated by a fence, as a lacklustre approach by the security forces.

"The Kaben attacks took place in the area of a nearby police station and  (Rapid Deployment Unit) RDU camp. The Kamologon area has recently seen an increase in attacks and I have sought an audience with the GSU commander to inquire about the police's approach. We hope that radical measures will be taken to ensure peace and order in the region," he said.

Elgeyo Marakwet Governor Wisley Rotich said the recent spate of killings had been perpetrated by a few individuals who had profited from banditry but would be wiped out in due course.

"We have criminals in every community. It will be a game changer if we call them out and isolate them from the good people. We should criminalise them and make it shameful to be a killer or a cattle rustler. Let's not glorify them and let them continue to suffer," Mr Rotich said.

Elgeyo Marakwet.

A section of banditry-prone Kerio Valley in Elgeyo Marakwet county.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

He said he would petition the Interior Ministry to declare the Kamologon forest a disturbed area so that it can be mapped for an operation to flush out the bandits.

In Kamologon, the bandits have taken advantage of the forest's remoteness to use it as a safe haven to hide stolen animals as well as their den. The bandits also take advantage of the region's poor road network and rugged terrain, which has hampered emergency response to attacks.

Although the Kamologon forest is surrounded by a combined security force including the RDU, General Service Unit (GSU), regular police and police reservists, no one dares to pursue the marauding criminals. Once the bandits have disappeared into the remote area, the police have little to do but retreat.

During a recent joint peace meeting in Kalya, on the border between West Pokot and Elgeyo Marakwet, CS Kindiki announced the launch of another security operation in Kamalogon forest to flush out the bandits operating there.

"Apart from the operation and road construction, a military camp will also be set up in Kamologon area to ensure that the region enjoys sustainable peace. We will flush out the bandits and armed criminals who have been terrorising the residents for decades before fleeing to the forest which is their hideout," he said.

"Any person found in the forest will be treated as a suspect for banditry, but our security agents have been trained to differentiate between law-abiding citizens and criminals. We will not punish an innocent person".

Prof Kindiki said the criminals would be prosecuted individually, stating that the entire community would not be judged or profiled by the security agencies during the operation.