Traders and residents in Lokichar town, Turkana South sub-county, are protesting surging armed robberies that have resulted in the death of a trader and left six others with gunshot wounds in the past three months.
In the latest incident, three workers at Weiwei Superstore suffered serious injuries when robbers attacked on Saturday evening.
Amid heightened tension, traders now fear stocking their shops or directly heading to their homes. They point an accusing finger at police officers in the town for lethargy.
Mr Simon Namuten, the proprietor of Weiwei Superstore, said that in the latest incident, the robbers stole Sh3 million and other valuables.
Businesses closing down
The tension has resulted in the closure of more than 10 reliable businesses, including fuel stations, M-Pesa shops and wholesale stores and created an artificial shortage of basic commodities and services.
Micah Okure said robbers came to his shop posing as customers at around 8pm last month.
"I realised they had been hiding AK-47 rifles when they shot dead my fellow trader who had come to inquire about something. They robbed me at gunpoint and escaped on motorbikes while shooting in the air," Mr Okure said.
Mr Philip Ekal said a robbery in December last year at his shop around 6pm was the genesis of insecurity in the town, which is in the international limelight due to petroleum activities.
"Armed robbers trailed me to my house. Just after I entered, they stormed in and took away Sh400,000 and four mobile phones. No tracking has been made by the police to recover the phones or trace the robbers," Mr Ekal said.
Mr Hosea Lokol said robberies have increased since thugs attacked his Kalemngorok fuel station on August 4. Mr Lokol said the robbers took Sh150,000 from the station and Sh200,000 from his M-Pesa shop.
Fuel shortage windfall gone
Kaakali fuel station proprietor John Ewoi said thugs targeted him when there was a shortage of fuel in the town and he was the only one still dispensing the commodity.
"At 7.30pm, before I closed the business, the robbers emerged and shot several times in the air to disperse customers. Two of them came towards me, hitting me several times with clubs before robbing me of over Sh400,000 that I had made from sales," Mr Ewoi said.
Mr Gabriel Emuria, the Turkana South Business Community chairman, said the sub-county was known for cattle rustling and highway bandit attacks but robbing traders at their premises was an emerging crime that will scare away investors.
"The situation will affect the growth of the town as investors will fear [putting their money here],” Mr Emuria said.
“If a shop that is 400 metres from a police station can be robbed and people injured, what will happen to businesses more than a kilometre from the station?"
He asked the Ministry of Interior to investigate security officers in the town for failing to intervene and respond to traders’ distress calls.
Residents called for increased security surveillance and the repair of vandalised street lights.
Mr James Kibele, a Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry official, called for the immediate transfer of security officers in Lokichar, saying they had failed to act on reports from traders or arrest suspected robbers.
Traders threatened to stage a demonstration to evict security officers if the situation deteriorates further.
Lokichar MCA-elect Samwel Lomodo said security in the town should be tightened the way the government had beefed up security at oilfields.
Turkana County Police Commander Samwel Ndanyi said that with the help of the public, they had obtained details of one of the robbers who raided the Weiwei shop. He said the suspect is from Lokapel village.
"At the same time, we are reviewing CCTV footage obtained from the shop. One of the robbers has been identified as a frequent visitor to Lokichar town," Mr Ndanyi said.
He urged traders and locals to work closely with the police in order to end the robberies.
"Before the robbery incident, we are informed that some traders cautiously called each other on the phone to close the shops. I urge them to always [promptly] volunteer such information so that we can thwart such criminal activities," he said.