What you need to know:
- The strongest link so far was the broad-daylight assassination of senior KWS Commander Bajil Kofa in Meru County on August 31.
- The abduction of Nyeri businessman Gerald Guandaru has further fuelled claims that KWS is involved, given his past links to poaching.
The disappearance of two Kenya Wildlife Service rangers, the assassination of a senior warden and a trail of abductions in Mt Kenya have opened the lid on a poaching syndicate in the region.
Coupled with reports of the killings of two rhinos in Solio Ranch and Nakuru National Park earlier this year, the latest developments point to illegal trade in game trophies in which KWS officers could be involved.
KWS has maintained plausible deniability for the most part despite being heavily implicated in the abductions of up to 15 people in the past three months.
But the agency has denied taking part in the abductions in its response to a habeas corpus application in the Nyeri High Court.
Sources have intimated to the Nation that earlier this year a rhino was killed by poachers in the Solio conservancy and the report kept under wraps.
KWS has neither confirmed nor denied the reports, but it is alleged the poaching incident set in motion a covert operation to rid the region of a poaching ring.
The strongest link so far was the broad-daylight assassination of senior KWS Commander Bajil Kofa in Meru County on August 31.
Kofa had just dropped off his 16-year-old daughter at Nkuene Girls High School and was returning to his base when he was gunned down.
Two Subaru Outbacks had been trailing him at the time and caught up with him outside Meru National Polytechnic on the Meru-Nanyuki road.
Military precision of assassination
Gunmen opened fire on the driver’s side, forcing Kofa to crash into a ditch. One of the assailants then shot the officer at close range. The attackers also collected bullet casings from the scene.
The military precision of the assassination is clear evidence that the attackers were no ordinary criminals but a squad in a security agency. It is no wonder police officials in Meru initially appeared to take credit for the hit by claiming Kofa was a “wanted criminal”.
In fact, Imenti North police boss Alexander Makau said that police had received intel that there were armed robbers in Meru at the time.
It would later emerge that Kofa was a KWS commander tasked with security at Solio Ranch. The conservancy is home to thousands of wild animals including three critically endangered species - rhinos, elephants and Grevy’s zebras. A rhino was reportedly killed there earlier this year.
Detectives have made little progress in investigating the officer’s murder but a cryptic passage posted on social media by the officer before his death could be the biggest clue.
“When God is about to take you to a greater level, everything will go crazy. Friends will betray you. You will be left alone. In that very moment, God will be your only source and He alone will take the glory.”
This was the officer’s last post and it suggests that the KWS boss knew his own friends and/or colleagues would turn on him.
Sources in KWS have also intimated that he had raised concerns about his own safety at work and requested to be provided with a carry-on firearm.
There have also been claims that the officer was looking into or had information on the trail of abductions in the region since June 26, 2021.
Unaware of any abductions
Though KWS has distanced itself from the abductions, the Nation can today reveal that some of the missing men previously had encounters with the agency’s officers, and not in a friendly manner.
One of them is Marsabit-based Senior Intelligence Officer Francis Isaack Oyaro, who was abducted on August 28, three days before the murder of Kofa.
Mr Oyaro was pulled out of a matatu on his way to Nakuru from Marsabit. He was abducted in Naromoru, barely a kilometre from Solio Ranch.
Witnesses claim the KWS officer appeared to know the people who had been trailing him.
He reportedly asked them why they were following him and yet they had been together the previous day.
In an interesting twist, police in Naromoru have claimed they are unaware of the abduction, though it has been highly publicised.
“I only came to learn of it on media platforms. We have no such reports,” Kieni East police boss Wilberforce Sicharanyi said.
In fact, Mr Sicharanyi claimed to be unaware of any abductions that have happened in the Naromoru area, further exposing police complacency. At least 11 of the missing men are from that area.
The abduction of Nyeri businessman Gerald Guandaru has further fuelled claims that KWS is involved, given his past links to poaching.
Most notorious poachers
Not only had he been abducted four years ago supposedly by KWS, the agency had listed him as one of the most notorious poachers in the Mt Kenya region.
Mr Guandaru and Gicobi Mwai were accused by the agency of repeatedly sneaking into conservancies in the region.
They were subsequently placed under arrest and charged with being in possession of ivory and an illegal firearm.
Interestingly, the two were arrested a day after a rhino was killed in the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. They were linked to the poaching incident though never charged. The charges of illegal possession of ivory and a gun were thrown out by a Nyahururu court last year.
Mwai was allegedly killed during the four-year trial in a botched poaching at Ol Pejeta.
Another abductee, Isaac Mwangi, is also said to have had past encounters with supposed KWS rangers. In affidavits filed in the Nyeri High Court, his family claims that KWS rangers had assaulted him on December 27, 2020. The matter was reported at Solio Village Three police post.
He had reportedly raised concerns that he was aware that KWS officers were after him and if he disappeared, the agency should be held liable.
He was abducted on June 27, 2021 and is yet to be found.
The Nation wrote to the KWS Director-General regarding the allegations linking the agency to the spate of kidnappings in Mt Kenya and the murder of its own officer, Bajil Kofa. KWS had not responded to our queries by publication time.