There was heightened tension in several villages in Turkana East after the weekend bandit attack that claimed the lives of 11 people, including eight police officers, as a multi-agency security team was deployed to pursue the raiders.
“Our team is on the ground and is determined to flash out the criminals from their hideouts,” said Rift Valley Regional Coordinator Maalim Mohamed on the phone.
He appealed to local residents to cooperate with the security team involved, emphasising that only the criminals behind the banditry and cattle raids were targeted.
Turkana Senator James Lomenen said senior security officers had pleaded with local leaders not to visit the affected villages due to fears of further attacks and also the ongoing security operation.
"Top security officials told me that there is an intensive security operation in pursuit of the bandits. We hope that they will recover the firearms stolen from the fallen soldiers as well as the stolen livestock."
The legislator said Turkana leaders support President William Ruto’s directive to security agencies to deal firmly with the perpetrators and financiers of bandit attacks.
"Runaway insecurity has drained efforts by leaders to bring meaningful socio-economic development in the North Rift region.
A holistic disarmament operation to mop up all illegal firearms from civilians would be more effective than the knee-jerk reactions to attacks that have been synonymous with past administrations," he said.
The bandits struck on Saturday near Kakiteitei village in Kapedo/Napeitom ward in Turkana East sub-county.
The three survivors of the attack are receiving treatment for serious gunshot wounds at the Lodwar County and Referral Hospital.
According to hospital Chief Executive Officer Joseph Epem, the three, including a GSU officer who was critically injured, are in a stable condition.
"The officer, who was admitted to the high dependency unit, is now ready for air evacuation for specialised treatment. He requires review by a cardio thoracic surgeon. The other two victims suffered minor injuries on the leg and arm," said Dr Epem.
Mobilised security officers
Among those killed was Mary Ekai Kanyaman, a peace crusader who had mobilised security officers from Lokori to recover her livestock, which had been stolen by bandits during a raid that left one person dead and another one injured.
Turkana Police Commander Samwel Ndanyi said the peace crusader was in the company of a patrol team comprising General Service Unit (GSU) officers, police reservists, and general duty personnel that had left in the morning in pursuit of the bandits who had attacked Ngikengoi village in Elelea sub-location, Katilia ward.
Some 22 GSU officers and three civilians were killed seven years ago when they were ambushed by armed bandits at Kasarani area along the Kapedo-Lokori road in Turkana East constituency.
They were going to Kapedo on the border between Baringo and Turkana countries.
Last year, two police officers were ambushed in Kapedo during a security operation to disarm and flush out bandits.
The government has launched several operations in the region in the past. The rough geographical terrain has proved a major challenge to the multi-agency security teams involved in the crackdowns, with the criminals hiding in caves in Silale, Nadome, Suguta Marmar, and Tiaty hills.
According to local residents, the National Police Reservists (NPR), who are familiar with the terrain, especially in Tiaty and Kapedo, have not been involved in the operations.
National security teams
“Unlike in other areas where the locals are recruited as NPR to back up national security teams, there is no such arrangement in Kapedo to guide the military and GSU officers on the paths used by the bandits, leaving them to manoeuvre the rough terrain on their own and exposing them to great danger,” said Brian Chetotum, a resident.
Some of the bandits who stage daring attacks in Kapedo on the border of Baringo and Turkana counties escape using the notorious Lokwachula “corridor” towards West Pokot county and end up in Uganda, where they take refuge among their relatives, only to return after the government suspends the disarmament operations.
The Pokot are found in Kenya and Uganda and move freely across the two countries in search of pasture and water for their livestock.
The pursuit for peace among warring pastoralists in the North Rift region is taking a new approach as the government turns to elders to help recover stolen animals and weapons, and to promote harmonious co-existence.
Administrators and elders from Pokot and Turkana communities are involved in a series of peace drives aimed at containing further cattle raids and banditry attacks, which have claimed several lives.