Guns surrender amnesty yields poor response as crackdown begins in restive North Rift

An armored personnel carrier patrols Marigat-Mochongoi road in Baringo County on February 16, 2023.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya I Nation Media Group

A National Police Reservist patrols Sinoni area in Mochongoi, Baringo County on February 16, 2023.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya I Nation Media Group

A thorough security cleansing in the bandit-hit North Rift Valley announced by the government is expected to commence fully on Friday, following the expiry of a three-day illegal arms surrender amnesty on Thursday, which received a poor response from civilians residing in the region.

By 3 pm on Thursday, the Nation team had established from county bosses that no guns had been surrendered in Baringo, Elgeyo Marakwet, West Pokot, and Laikipia counties that were Monday declared ‘dangerous and disturbed’ by Interior Cabinet Secretary Prof Kithure Kindiki, as he spelt out security interventions to be undertaken in the region.

Only three civilians had surrendered guns- two in Turkana County and one in Baragoi and Samburu, respective county commissioners told Nation on Thursday afternoon, a few hours before the expiry of the three-day amnesty.

It happened amid intelligence reports that the multi-agency security crackdown to flush out bandits had already commenced in Turkana and Samburu counties.

“No firearm has been returned to security officers despite the three days’ amnesty. We are still waiting till Thursday at midnight before a disarmament is conducted in the affected areas,” said Laikipia County Commissioner Joseph Kanyiri.

Samburu County Police Commander David Wambua said an individual surrendered the AK-47 rifle with several rounds of ammunition.

The weapon was taken from a village in Baragoi, Samburu North.

"We have so far recovered one firearm that was surrendered to us within the amnesty period given by the government," Mr Wambua told the Nation on Thursday.

"We call upon anyone with a gun to bring it before we commence the planned ruthless operation that includes the police and the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF)," he added.

The government announced on Monday a joint police and military operation to flush out bandits reigning terror in Turkana, West Pokot, Samburu, Laikipia, Baringo, and Elgeyo Marakwet counties, besieged by wild and lethal bandits.

A three-day arms surrender was announced, as well as a night-to-dawn curfew to control movement in the region at night.

The announcement of the security operation sent residents of the targeted region into panic, with many fearing that they could be subjected to torturous acts. The tension across the region has been palpable, with many fleeing their homes.

 Women and children spotted at Sinoni in Mochongoi, Baringo County on February 16, 2023, take a break as they returned to their homes at Seretion village, from Romulel village, 10 kilometres apart, where they normally spend the night in fear of being attacked by bandits armed with guns at night.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya I Nation Media Group

Illegal firearms have been blamed for the insecurity that has resulted in massive killings, injuries, loss of economic livelihoods, destruction of government infrastructure, especially schools, and health facilities, and disrupted movement.

In Baringo where trucks ferrying soldiers and a variety of military combat machinery have been spotted along the roads since Monday, County Commissioner Abdirisack Jaldessa confirmed that the guns- surrender amnesty had not yielded fruits on the third day.

“As of today, no gun has been recovered in Baringo County,” he revealed.

Baringo County Commissioner Abdirisack Jaldesa during an interview at his office in Kabarnet, Baringo County on February 15, 2023, on a security operation which begins February 17, 2023 to flush out bandits.

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya I Nation Media group

“About where KDF have been set camps in this region, a lot of things are currently happening concerning the operation which I may not say. Soon you will see things rolling,” he told Nation.

In Elgeyo Marakwet, unlike last year’s guns’ surrender call, County Commissioner John Korir said no gun was recovered in this week’s three-day amnesty.

"During last year’s amnesty, we received 35 illegal guns, but not this time around. It seems locals are stuck with their guns and I am optimistic we shall recover them during the operation," he said.

It was the same situation in Laikipia and West Pokot counties, with the latter’s county commissioner Apollo Okello saying the situation in the county was calm.

West Pokot County Police commandant Peter Kattam said security troops were on the ground and have intensified patrols.

In Turkana, County Commissioner Jacob Ouma confirmed that it is only in Turkana South Sub County where civilians had surrendered two illegal firearms.

He said local administration structures in Turkana South and Turkana East Sub Counties that have all been labeled disturbed and dangerous have been waiting to receive the guns for the past three days.

"Civilians in those areas should harken to the request to surrender illegal arms in their possession peacefully before the State apparatus moves in to disarm them forcefully," Mr Ouma said.

More contingents of Kenya Defense Forces (KDF) officers were Wednesday spotted arriving in Baringo county ahead of the commencement of a planned security operation in the Kerio Valley region later this week.

Convoys of KDF vehicles were spotted along the Marigat-Mochongoi headed to their Mukutani base on Wednesday afternoon, ahead of the operation expected to kick off on Friday at the expiry of the three-day voluntary arms surrender amnesty.

Locals at Marigat town said convoys of lorries full of soldiers had been arriving in the area since Monday. Locals also said they witnessed military trailers ferrying combat hardware and machinery, including tanks and gun-mounted vehicles at around Monday midnight.

There are two existing KDF camps in Baringo county, namely Mukutani in Mochongoi and Chesitet in Kapedo, with the latter existing since 2014.

On Wednesday, the government moved to allay fears of possible torture in the planned exercise, stating that it was targeted at weeding out hardcore bandits who have been terrorizing the region and not innocent persons.

Rift Valley Regional Commissioner Dr Abdi Hassan said on Wednesday that the operation will be intelligence-led, cautioning against misleading information that residents will torture by security officers.

"The exercise will not target the locals because we are after the bandits. I am urging members of the public to carry on with their business as usual and avoid falling for the propaganda," he said.

For many, the planned security operation evokes brutal memories of past experiences in the hands of security officers.

On Wednesday morning, for instance, Chemolingot town in Tiaty constituency, Baringo County, which is usually a beehive of activity was nearly deserted, with little activity going on.

Throughout the afternoon, pockets of locals could be spotted huddled in groups under acacia tree shades and verandas of buildings conversing in hushed tones, while shielding themselves from the searing heat.

Some shops were locked, with the Nation team establishing that owners had since fled the area ahead of the operation.

Mr Paul Lotudo, a local businessman at Chemolingot divulged to Nation that over 30 shops had closed after the government announced the security operation on Monday.

“Majority of non-local traders have fled the area fearing the operation which is always brutal. Only a few locals have nowhere else to go to are remaining. Some suffered in the hands of the security officers and they are afraid of suffering the same fate,” Mr Lotudo said.

He recalled how security officers who were carrying out an operation a decade ago, descended on the town, razing down all buildings to the ground and torturing those they came across.

“Premises including mine were torched and nothing could be salvaged. I was rendered an impoverished man since then,” he said.

“My children in university have deferred their studies on several occasions because I cannot raise their fees. Therefore, an operation is a bad omen to us,” he stated.

While a majority of Baringo locals are in agreement on the need to weed out the criminal elements disturbing the region, they plead with the government to ensure the exercise targets the bandits only.

“We are also suffering from the effects of bandits because when the roads are closed, movement of goods and people is hindered causing us huge losses. Even investors keep away from the region,” Mr Lotudo said.

“It is our plea to the government to send the security officers to comb the thickets and spare the market centers because bandits are hiding in the bushes,” he implored.

Daniel Loktrai, another local confirmed that the tension and panic have spread across Tiaty, especially among the innocent people.

“Previous operations have proved to punish the innocent more, and we are asking the government to concentrate more on the bandits’ hideouts,” he said.

“Let them employ technology and the intelligence to know who the bandit is and focus their might there,” he appealed.

Mr Loktrai said many people are fleeing in fear because the town was run over by the security officers undertaking the operation.

“This town hosts over 3, 000 people and from my assessment, since the announcement of the operation, more than 1,500 people have fled and more are still fleeing. We need an assurance that the innocent will be spared,” he said.

A grocer, Ms Mwanahamisi Mkiamina said the effects of the planned operation are already taking a toll on her business.

“Since people have fled the town, we rarely make any sales. This has affected my ability to pay my bills. By the time the operation ends our livelihoods will be in jeopardy,” she said.

Chemolingot bodaboda association chairman Geoffrey Atakor said they are already suffering and the majority of members will default in servicing their loans.

“Motorcycles are the reliable means of transport in this area and they cannot now operate because of the curfew. The operators will fail to meet their financial obligations- both to service the loans and their family needs,” he said.

Tiaty West Deputy County Commissioner Jacktone Orieny, however, said there was no record of people fleeing the area.

He revealed that despite the State giving a three-day arms surrender amnesty, no guns have been surrendered by locals.

“At the moment there is anxiety, which is normal because of the anticipated operation. We have not seen people fleeing the region and we are still calling on the chiefs to ask locals to surrender the illegal guns because everyone wants peace,” said the administrator.

The tension was also prominent in West Pokot County where some are unhappy with the planned security operation and forceful illegal gun mop-up from the pastoralist communities. Residents say previous security operations have left a trail of torture memories and damage.

Musa Cheperer, popularly known as Muyahudi said Kenya was not a military government but a civil one, warning of a looming legal battle against those leading the security onslaught.

Inspector General of Police Japhet Koome who landed in Turkana in a military jet on Tuesday confirmed that KDF officers were joining the multiagency team that has already rolled out a major security operation at Kainuk near the border of Turkana and West Pokot targeting marauding bandits.

Speaking at Kainuk Anti Stock Theft Unit Camp after a four-hour closed-door meeting with heads of various security agencies led by Turkana County Police Commander Samwel Ndanyi, he said the combined force has the capacity and the will to restore order, and that the operation would extend to all parts declared disturbed and dangerous.

Report by Fred Kibor, Cammy Lutta, Oscar KAkai and Geoffrey Ondieki