Anxiety as more Kenyans in urban centres and villages acquire illegal guns

What you need to know:

  • Government-sponsored survey found out that about 450,000 guns are illegally held, mainly by pastoralists and criminals

Kenyans fearing attack are arming themselves with illegal guns, a new survey shows.

The majority of the firearms are found among pastoral communities perennially faced with the threat of banditry. But in recent months Kenyans in urban areas and those in rural areas have acquired weapons to protect themselves against gangsters and other threats.

A new report yet to be adopted by the government estimates that there are between 200,000 and 450,000 illegal guns, many of them in the hands of criminals. And the AK-47 semi-automatic rifle is the weapon of choice.

These are among the many findings in the survey report seen by the Sunday Nation. It was carried out by the government and the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey following interviews with Kenyans in their homes as well as law enforcers.

Anticipation of violence

The report links the recent arms acquisition in part to the post-election violence: “There has been evidence of increased acquisition of firearms in some areas, which never used to have, in anticipation of similar violence,” the report says, but does not provide details.

Residents of Nairobi, Central, Lower Eastern and Rift Valley regions told researchers they were not aware of increased acquisition of illegal guns. But according to law enforcers who were interviewed in these areas, households, albeit a few, have recently acquired firearms.

According to information gathered from the police and provincial administrators, most illegal guns are in Upper Eastern, Coast, North Rift and North Eastern regions.

The need to protect property and the fear of criminal gangs top the list of reasons why Kenyans would opt to arm themselves rather than trust the police to protect them.

The researchers found that in pastoral areas residents own firearms to protect villages against clan rivalry, as a precaution against instability or war and to fend off wild animals.

“Fifteen per cent of respondents in Bungoma county confirmed owning guns,” the report says.

It links the trend to the rise of the Sabaot Land Defence Force in Mt Elgon District, which is in Bungoma County. The SLDF uprising was crushed in a joint police and military operation in late 2008.

“The operation thwarted the militia threat and recovered guns, but from theses findings, civilian arm ownership in the county persists to some extent,” the report says.

100,000 displaced

Before the military moved in, the SLDF had killed nearly 1,000 people, including security officers and displaced 100,000 others. The security operation seized more than 1,200 rifles, 1,500 bullets and a number of grenades.

However, early this month, the government held barazas in the area following fears that remnants of the former militia are regrouping to plot attacks on those who revealed their activities.

At the height of SLDF operations, locals were forced to pay illegal taxes. Mutilations of those suspected of defiance and illegal fines imposed by kangaroo courts were the order of the day.

Members regrouping

Many were killed in the security operation, and 980 other militia members were arrested and taken to court. Some of them are thought to be regrouping after their release.

Researchers interviewed residents in 31 counties and major urban centres including Nairobi, Mombasa and Nakuru between April and July, 2011.

Somalia is named as the major source of illicit arms. Next in order are South Sudan, Ethiopia and Uganda. A smaller proportion of the arms are smuggled from Tanzania and sold mainly in South Nyanza.

Trends of firearms trafficking and the routes used by gun runners have also been revealed.

“Concealment involves hiding the arms in cargo and trucks transporting livestock to urban areas. Some of the cargo in which arms are hidden include sand, charcoal and cooking fat,” the report says.

Arms destined for the Coast are smuggled from Somalia and Tanzania either by road or sea and enter the region via Lunga Lunga and Kiunga. Another route was identified as the Isebania–Kisii for firearms originating in Tanzania.

The Garissa–Eastleigh route is the main supplier of illicit arms from Somalia to Nairobi.

Illicit firearms to the North Rift and Western Province are supplied from Somalia, Ethiopia and Uganda with entry points at Lokichoggio and Lodwar. The Uganda–Kapenguria-Kitale–Bungoma route has also been identified as a passage commonly used by gun runners.

Isiolo to Nyeri, Nairobi to Thika and Nairobi to Kiambu are identified as supply points for central Kenya. The central Rift, according to the report, is supplied by the Kitale–Eldoret–Nakuru, Nairobi–Naivasha–Nakuru and the Nyahururu-Nakuru routes.

A few cows

The report, The Second National Small Arms Mapping Survey, also establishes that a rifle can be acquired for between Sh30,000 and Sh70,000, depending on the region. In northern Kenya, a few cows will acquire you a firearm.

“But arms acquisition is considered difficult by residents. However, most law enforcers consider it complicated but possible. A few considered it very easy,” states one of the experts who was involved in preparing the report.

Internal Security secretary Mutea Iringo opened a workshop in Nairobi on Monday so participants could discuss the report before it is adopted by the government.

“We are aware of the challenges associated with small arms. The negative cultural practices that encourage their proliferation, political instability and economic problems associated with prevailing conditions in neighbouring countries,” he said.

If adopted, findings of the report would be used for future disarmament exercises. While the increase in arms among pastoral communities is attributed to perennial cattle rustling and banditry attacks, urban areas like Nairobi are identified with many crime incidents like carjacking and armed robbery.

On one of their fact-finding missions in Nairobi, the surveyors organised focus groups in Kayole and Kibera.

Execute crime

“The perpetrators (of crime) are networked. Those from Kibera will be facilitated by others elsewhere in Nairobi to execute crime there and, in return, these accomplices will commit their crimes in Kibera. It’s a kind of exchange programme.”

A separate government report shows that pastoral communities have over the years spent Sh1.1 billion to purchase arms, and 3,000 deaths caused by small arms-related conflicts were recorded by yet another study done between 1994 and 2004.

And the report estimates that the government spends Sh20 billion in these areas every year on security operations that include disarmament campaigns. But many still die each year in armed community raids.

“Urban centres like Nairobi, Mombasa, Thika, Eldoret and Kisumu have suffered the brunt of illicit arms. Violent mugging, carjacking, criminal gangs are characteristic. Unemployment among the youth, political factors, terrorism and other issues may contribute to the problem,” the report says.

Official police reports show 188 guns and 36,458 bullets were recovered in police operations in 2010. The survey also exposed loopholes in the transportation of arms to other countries.

“With Mombasa port being one of the entry points used by smugglers, arms destined for neighbouring countries have been recorded to have been diverted and some of these weapons have been linked to facilitating drug trafficking,” it also says.

Among pastoral communities, the survey says, arms are common, and the gun culture is deep-rooted. Residents do not view it as a crime.

Pride and dowry

“Among the Pokot, for every son born, an AK-47 is bought. In Turkana, there is the motivation to rustle for pride and dowry,” the report states.

In yet another bizarre incident, contained in the report, “a Turkana woman was shot by a Pokot. He said his was a newly purchased firearm, and he was testing whether it worked”.

And in Turkana, in one of the chief’s barazas attended by the area district commissioner, some of the community members who attended turned up with their guns expecting to be supplied with bullets.

A survey of illicit firearms in Kenya was last carried out in 2003. The report also noted that the exact number of illicit arms cannot be quantified.

In addition to seeking to establish the number of firearms, the researchers established that many incidents of gang attacks are never reported to the police.

Clubs and knives

Although most victims were attacked with crude weapons like pangas, clubs and knives, the gun culture is fast taking root, the report notes.

“About 82.4 per cent of household respondents that were victims of crime or violence reported the incidents while 17.5 per cent did not report. They cited lack of confidence in police or authorities,” a part of the report says.

Of the crime incidents reported that involved firearms, robbery, theft and threats are ranked at the top.

Since January, Nairobi topped the list with 157 cases, Rift Valley had 109, Central had 89 and 75 incidents took place in Eastern province. North Eastern, Coast and Nyanza had 32, 18 and 10 cases respectively.