Kindiki’s bottom-up approach to killings in the North draws criticism

Kithure Kindiki

Interior CS Kithure Kindiki.

Photo credit: Courtesy

Prof Kithure Kindiki’s public silence on the banditry rocking the Kenyan North has raised questions, with many Kenyans having expected a combative and radical approach to a menace that has characterised what is now christened as the “valley of death”.

As of Monday, when President William Ruto directed the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) to start an operation to weed out bandits terrorising the Kerio Valley belt, the soft-spoken Interior Cabinet Secretary, who has pitched camp in the region, was yet to make public how the menace would be dealt with, with sources indicating that he had assumed a “quiet and discreet” strategy to address the problem.

Although he is said to be in the region, the CS seems to be avoiding any public appearances.

The President issued the directive against the backdrop of sustained attacks by the bandits in Baringo, Turkana, West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet, Laikipia and Samburu.

The President’s orders came as bandits engaged in a fierce gunfight with police reservists at the foot of the Korkoron Hills in Mochongoi, Baringo South, that saw residents flee Sinoni village, and the local primary school deserted.

In Turkana, on Sunday night, armed bandits gang raped an expectant teacher at a school on the border of Turkana and West Pokot counties, two days after they killed four police officers and injured seven others at Kainuk. 

Nation.Africa has learned that Prof Kindiki, unlike his predecessors, has chosen stealth, and being calculative and discreet in dealing with the problem, which has led to fierce criticism, particularly from residents of the bandit-prone regions. 

Sources indicated to the Nation that the CS has adopted a bottom-up approach, where he is engaging security chiefs at the grassroots more, and the top brass less.  In Turkana, for instance, it is said that more armored personnel carriers (APCs), technical vehicles, and even aircraft have been deployed.

What is not clear is whether the CS’s strategy has the approval of his boss President Ruto, who, during an interdenominational prayer service in Nakuru on Sunday, said he had instructed Prof Kindiki “to move out of his cozy Harambee House office” and pitch tent in North Rift until calm is restored. 

“You must have noticed, when CSs were being introduced, Prof Kindiki is not here because he is in that region. Today he was in Baringo, yesterday he was in Turkana. I ordered him to leave his Nairobi office and pitch camp in the North Rift until the issue of Kenyans losing lives is resolved,” said Dr Ruto.

Disgruntled residents of the troubled regions have been on social media criticising the CS over his approach in addressing the bloodletting.

 “…100 days have lapsed since you took office. The banditry incidents have doubled. Perhaps you should change your strategy, which sadly, has been employed by previous security and has failed miserably. One thing you haven't been informed about these criminals is they enjoy provocations and they long to lock horns with your men in uniform,” lamented High Court advocate Kiprop Marrirmoi, a resident.

Mr Newton Chebii, a former Recce police officer lamented on his social media page that many people in Kerio Valley had been killed by bandits since Prof Kindiki assumed office.

“The most recent is the gunning down of elite Recce and RDU officers in Kainuk, Turkana County. These bandits have been around for some decades. They do not understand the language of peace. Kindly, stop the collection and analysis of data on banditry,” he said.

“This act of terrorism does not require legal research. You seem to be looking for precedents and other case studies on banditry. President Ruto has given you the mandate to crush this banditry once and for all. Please, bring this madness to an end and restore sanity in Kerio Valley,” he said. 

The entire last week, Prof Kindiki traversed the troubled region incognito and held closed-door meetings with security officers. 

He has avoided any publicity, a break from the past, where visits by high-profile security and government officials enjoyed media coverage.

However, the bandits have been boldly attacking, even as he went around the region.

When the CS visited Elgeyo Marakwet in January following the killing of two sisters, he pledged to avoid public meetings, saying he would meet the bandits in the bush.

“This is the last meeting we are holding here and someone has to give way between the government and the bandits and I must assure you it must be the bandits. You have dared the government enough and we have heard and we are coming for you,” he warned at the time.

In Baringo, where the CS was said to be, tension remained high at Sinoni and Seretion village in Mochongoi, Baringo South, after the 11am attack on Monday.

“The incident happened a few kilometres from the school at 11am. At 11.30am we decided to close the school,” said Sinoni Primary School headteacher Moses Kiptegoi.

The Reverend Richard Ngetuny from the area said the attack happened when police reservists on patrol spotted armed bandits driving hundreds of cattle in Korkoron hills and exchanged fire with them, some 500 metres from the school.

More than five schools are likely to be affected following the attack in Mochongoi, he said.

“The police reservists were overpowered by these bandits who were many. Locals have been forced to flee Kosiela, Seretion, and Sinoni villages for safety,” indicated the Rev Ngetuny on phone.

On Monday afternoon, Baringo County Commissioner Abdulrask Jaldesa also confirmed the incident, saying a response team had been dispatched to the area.

Villagers also say that similarly armed bandits were spotted in Kapindasum Primary School in Baringo South, raising tension in the region. The school was among the learning centres that President Ruto ordered reopened in January.

In Turkana, a school headteacher reported the gang-raping of the pregnant teacher at Kainuk Police Station on Monday. The teacher was raped by four bandits who threatened to kill anyone who challenged them, according to the headteacher.

"The teacher was to begin her maternity leave next month. The remaining five teachers have threatened to resign because their lives are at great risk. Pupils have not reported to school today," the headteacher said at the station.

At Kainuk FPFK Philadelphia Primary School, which is next to the Anti Stock Theft Unit camp, learning has been interrupted.

"Grade Six, which is supposed to have a total of 30 pupils, only had six boys on Monday. Parents had withdrawn most of their children from the school, whose population is supposed to be 528. The enrolment is going down every day due to worsening security," said Ms Ruth Esekon, the headteacher.

She said teachers, most of whom are not from the area, fear for their lives because the school compound has frequently been an escape route for the bandits whenever they steal livestock or are overpowered by security officers.

In Grade Seven, there were only three learners out of 19 that were expected. A spot check around Kainuk town revealed decreased activity. There was low traffic, and closed shops, with women and children keeping off their farms.

"We can't go to our farms as the bandits are still on a mission to kill more residents and police. Those with shops and offering hotel and accommodation services have no customers because the few vehicles that are seen in the town proceed without stopping," said Ms Shirleen Akolong.

Last week on Wednesday, while the Interior CS was said to be meeting security chiefs at a Baringo hotel, a bandit attack was reported in the same area, with more than 50 goats stolen in an attack reported at Mochongoi in Baringo South.

Among those who have been meeting the CS is Rift Valley Regional Coordinator Hassan Abdi. The CS summoned senior security officials from Baringo, Laikipia, Elgeyo Marakwet, Turkana, Samburu, and West Pokot counties — the worst hit by banditry.

The rough geographical terrain has proved the main challenge to the multi-agency security team involved in the crackdown against the criminals who take cover in caves in Silale, Nadome, Suguta Marmar, and Tiaty hills.

North Rift leaders have been unequivocal and unanimous in demanding the deployment of KDF to the region to quell the insurgency.