Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki’s speech at the volatile Ngomeni area in Kitui County was interrupted by gunshots fired by bandits who have terrorised the residents for many years.
The gunshots -- heard barely two kilometres from Mandongoi Primary School in Mwingi North where the CS had landed, accompanied by the county security team, to assure the community of their safety -- caused panic, with security officers on high alert.
Prof Kindiki, who toured the area to condole with families of two people killed by bandits in separate attacks last week, acknowledged that the gunfire amounted to daring him and the government security machinery.
The CS had barely spoken for three minutes when the crowd became restless as four gunshots rent the air, prompting Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua to interject. He told Prof Kindiki that people in people in the area lived in constant fear.
The security minister said the bandits had crossed the red line and will now face the full force of government.
"If they think they are better equipped with more guns than the government, or they are more trained than our security agencies, we'll see who wins this war in the next few days" said the CS.
He directed the County Security Committee to immediately determine the logistics in terms of security personnel and vehicles to deal with the menace once and for all.
We are ready to deploy up to 5,000 police officers to Kitui if that is what is required to rid the county of armed bandits who have been terrorising locals for many years,” he said.
Preliminary investigations established that the gunshots were fired at some residents by armed camel herders who have invaded and occupied their farms with their animals.
Two young men, Mr Kaveva Musya and Mr Mwema Musyoka, who were going about their business in the village survived the attack by dashing into the bush after they encountered the bandits near their home.
According to a terrified Mr Musya who spoke to Nation on telephone, they are lucky to be alive because the herders opened fire upon seeing them approaching along a village footpath near the farms where they are keeping hundreds of cattle.
"We had gone to collect some farm equipment we abandoned when the herders pushed us out and we knew danger was lurking, but luckily we saw them first and they fired at us as we fled," explained Mr Musya.
Kitui County Police Commander Leah Kithei confirmed that the incident was under investigation and a team of security officers had been deployed to pursue the armed herders.
"What we know is that there were no officers patrolling that area so it’s obvious the gunshots were fired by those armed camel herders. We're dealing with the issue" said Ms Kithei.
The incident almost spoiled Prof Kindiki's tour, however, it underscored the seriousness of the long-standing pastoral conflict pitting herders from North Eastern counties and residents of Kitui County who are mostly peasant farmers.
The CS promised to establish more police stations along the troubled border between Kitui and Tana River counties, and post sufficient police officers to deal with insecurity.
Mandongoi primary school is under round-the-clock police guard, with six officers patrolling the school to keep learners safe during the day, and four working at night.
Last week, two men were attacked and killed in the area, the latest in a string of tragic incidents involving the bandits.