Over the past two months, more than 15 people have been killed and about 400 families displaced from their homes in Ol Moran and Githiga wards in Laikipia County in bandit and cattle rustling attacks.
Houses have also been torched and hundreds of livestock stolen even after the government a month ago launched a security operation involving at least 400 police officers to flush out the attackers.
Armoured personnel carriers were also dispatched to hotspots in the region. And two military choppers have been conducting regular aerial surveillance.
However, despite the heavy presence of security forces that include the Rapid Deployment Unit, the General Service Unit, the Anti-Stock Theft Unit and general duty officers, insecurity continues to escalate. At least five civilians have been killed since the security operation was launched.
On Sunday afternoon, suspected armed bandits staged a daring attack in a village in Laikipia West and shot dead three people. Another resident escaped with serious gunshot wounds.
Shot and killed
The bandits raided the home of Michael Kanari and made away with 32 cattle and two sheep. As they were driving away the stolen animals towards the Laikipia Nature Conservancy, they ran into Peter Njuguna, 50, and Julius Nyerere, 45, shot and killed them on the spot, eyewitnesses said.
The three armed men later shot dead Stephen Kariuki, 33, who was fishing at the Mbogoini dam, before they later engaged security officers in a shoot-out several metres from where a security team had dug a trench along the conservancy road from Wangwachi to Kamwenje.
The trench was intended as a barrier against marauding animals migrating from the conservancy in search of water and pasture into nearby farmlands destroying crops in the process.
The stolen animals were later recovered near the Laikipia Nature Conservancy cutline.
Rebeca Njeri, Mr Kariuki’s mother, said that her son was a peasant farmer who depended on farming and fishing to support his young family.
“They have taken away my only son. Their aim is to send us away so that they can expand their grazing land. Why is the government reluctant to kick the criminals out? Who will compensate us for the losses we are suffering?” cried Ms Njeri.
Lucia Wanjiru, Mr Njuguna’s mother, said that her son was the family’s breadwinner.
“The government is telling us that there is an ongoing security operation yet we are burying our sons and husbands every day. If the government gets serious, there would be peace in this area, but for now, we remain neglected and rejected,” she said.
Residents and local leaders have blamed the escalating conflict on the government’s hesitancy to restore peace in the troubled region.
"The police have lost the battle - they are scared. Gangs of bandits roam confidently in our villages. They are bolder and can now kill our people at will," lamented Laikipia Senator John Kinyua.
He said the government had lost the battle against banditry.
“When Interior CS Fred Matiang’i toured the county, he promised us that the government would end the menace in weeks’ time. How on earth can a government that is in power negotiate with criminals? We wouldn't be speaking about the killings of our people if there is an ongoing security operation in this area,” he said.
Bandits in conservancy
Laikipia West MP Patrick Mariru wondered why the government keeps saying that there is an ongoing security operation in the Laikipia Nature Conservancy yet bandits were still coming out, killing residents and returning to their hideouts in the reserve.
“There are several KDF and GSU camps in the conservancy yet the bandits are still operating there and are still killing our people. The security operation that is allegedly happening in Laikipia is a big joke as nothing is happening,” he noted.
Ol Moran MCA George Karuiru said, “The bandits appear well coordinated and are reasonably trained, assuming formations similar to police and military manoeuvres during raids.”
His Githiga counterpart Peter Thomi called for President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene.
“All top government officials have been here yet the situation continues to worsen. We want the Head of State to visit this area and address this issue once and for all,” Mr Thomi said.
The government said that bandits fleeing the security operation zones in Laikipia were seeking refuge in settlement areas and continue to commit crimes.