State to use ex-bandits to stop vice in restive north

A herdsman armed with a gun in Lokichogio, Turkana County, in March last year.

A herdsman armed with a gun in Lokichogio, Turkana County, in March last year.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

It's often said that, to catch one thief, send another thief. And for authorities in Turkana County, this idiom may soon come in handy in very practical terms should a plan to use reformed bandits to hunt down other criminals come to fruition.

A government amnesty extended to civilians who surrender their illegal firearms could contain a further offer to incorporate them into the National Police Reservists (NPR) Corps.

Turkana County Commissioner Jacob Ouma said civilians who give up their guns will be given priority in the upcoming recruitment of NPR. The offer is expected to see an increase in the number of illegal guns surrendered to the government, boosting the ongoing security operation. 

Mr Ouma, who was speaking after receiving 20 guns in Turkana South on Tuesday, said insecurity was thriving due to the high number of firearms in the hands of civilians. The State is in the process of recruiting and training NPRs to supplement efforts by regular police and military units to secure “disturbed areas”. 

Reservists are recruited from local villages and are familiar with the terrain, unlike police and military officers. 

Those picked are first vetted and then taken through paramilitary training.

Bandits often take advantage of the rugged terrain and harsh weather conditions to stage attacks and evade security officers.

Turkana County Police Commander Samwel Ndanyi said on Tuesday that the surrender of the guns in Kaakong was due to goodwill from politicians. 

"Egged on by local leaders, including Governor Jeremiah Lomorukai, civilians are now heeding calls to voluntarily surrender firearms that they own illegally. There is no need for pastoralists to herd their livestock while armed. Firearms belong to the government and, as security officers, we will reciprocate the good gesture by providing better security," Mr Ouma said. 

Mr Lomorukai challenged leaders from warring pastoralist communities to encourage their people to stop breaking the law.

"The surrender of firearms is a sign of our respect for the government. We hope that the government will reciprocate this gesture by deploying additional NPRs to boost security, especially in remote areas where roads are impassable," he said. 

Reinstatement of NPRs

Political leaders in the region have been on record demanding the reinstatement of the NPRs in banditry-prone areas.

According to residents along the border of Turkana and West Pokot counties who have borne the brunt of retaliatory attacks, April was one of their worst months, with seven people shot dead and over 10 others left with serious injuries. 

Ms Margaret Arot, a resident of Kainuk, called on leaders to work hand in hand with security personnel and support peace-building initiatives among women, the youth and peace crusaders from both counties. 

"Governors, senators, members of Parliament from counties must also meet and come up with to a long-lasting solution so that residents in border areas can coexist peacefully," Ms Arot said.

She said competition for land is a major factor in the fighting, accusing some political leaders of inciting residents. 

"Last Saturday, armed bandits shot dead a 60-year-old charcoal burner identified as Musa Nanai Lopese near Kainuk bridge. Days later, West Pokot Governor Simon Kachapin announced plans to set up a security camp in Porkoyo, a highly contested area," she said. 

Turkana Governor Jeremiah Lomorukai has strongly criticised the project, terming it an attempted land grab. 

Mr Ouma said the project, was initiated by the Ministry of Interior, in which a General Service Unit base would be built as part of measures to improve border security. Turkana County Woman Representative Cecilia Asinyen said area leaders will stand firm to protect their ancestral land from “expansionists”.