Former Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya has detailed the complexities that define the banditry menace in the Kenyan North and how top government officials and politicians have frustrated the war against criminal activities in the troubled region.
Politicians, who are known, according to Mr Natembeya, who served for three years as Rift Valley regional commissioner, were the main beneficiaries of the banditry that has claimed hundreds of lives over the years.
In a ‘tell it all’ interview with NTV’s Kigoda Chako news segment on Monday evening, a candid Natembeya – currently the Trans Nzoia Governor – lifted the lid on the intricacies that characterise the bandit activities, sharing his frustrations in fighting the menace and revealing that ‘protected cartels’ behind a livestock theft syndicate were running the show.
From his bosses ignoring important calls in time of need, budget constraints, complicit and underpaid security officials and well-connected politicians funding the criminals who have turned the Kerio Valley belt into killing and cattle raiding fields, Mr Natembeya revealed the lack of political goodwill to address the menace that has left hundreds dead over the years in Baringo, Elgeyo Marakwet, Laikipia, Samburu, West Pokot, and Turkana.
“I left Rift Valley frustrated, only the President was picking calls,” revealed the Trans Nzoia governor, who fell short of revealing the identities of individuals behind the trade, even as he said it was public knowledge.
“It is not the work of the regional commissioner to make daily reports about how many people have been killed. PS Kibicho (Karanja Kibicho, the former Interior principal secretary) never used to pick up calls. I only spoke to him twice in three years,” he said in the interview with NTV’s Fredrick Muitiriri.
“Those people never picked up calls. The PS then never answered my calls and all our pleas for resources were never met. Only the former President (Uhuru Kenyatta) used to pick up your calls. The rest never used to pick up calls, and never came there either. You are just on your own, no fuel, no allowances or food for the police officers,” he stated, revealing that his boss (PS) never visited the North Rift region during his tenure.
To demonstrate further the lack of support, he said as RC, he received Sh900,000 every three months for fuel, vehicles, and related logistics, which would run out within three weeks.
“That budget could not fund an operation, for instance. The will was there, but there was no support, people didn’t pick up calls, so you are on your own,” he said.
He revealed how a planned operation never happened for lack of support, because the government failed to gazette it for legal protection.
“We were to be given fuel, it never happened, we were to be authorised to do so, it never happened. So, the guns kept increasing to date,” he stated.
“I left Rift Valley a frustrated man. Even if it were not for politics, I would still have left,” he said.
Even more frustrating was when orders would be issued withdrawing guns and ammunition from police reservists who are conversant with the local terrain on a day when they were to carry out an operation.
“They would be given to police officers who have grown up in Muthaiga feeding on Blue Band, taking them to Kapedo to fight with people whose first present from a parent at three years old was a bullet, how can that even be possible? he asked.
The former administrator said known politicians were supplying the criminals with weapons and ammunition in the guise of checking on their livestock.
According to former Rift Valley RC, 70 per cent of the meat consumed by Kenyans living in Nakuru and Nairobi comes from cattle rustling in commercialised banditry.
“The meat you eat on your plates in Nakuru and Nairobi, 70 per cent of it is from these criminal activities. The bandits are paid a paltry Sh7,000 per head, with the same being sold for up to Sh100,000,” he said.
He explained that the cattle stolen from the troubled region are transported at night to markets in Nairobi, particularly Dagoretti, yet the law says livestock should not be transported at night.
“Yet the roads are manned by police officers. They have pocketed all those people. That’s why Kenyans wonder where the stolen livestock goes. It is not an easy war,” he stated.
“By the time I was the RC, we had a full list of individuals who had invaded Laikipia Nature Conservancy with illegal grazing, where lives and property were lost. Some of the high-ranking individuals in the military, police, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), and politicians, among others, were named. No action was taken against them,” he said.
It is on this premise, Mr Natembeya observed, that the operation to flush out illegal herders and bandits who had invaded the conservancies failed.
“It was frustrating when we gave out the coordinates to the pilots to carry out bombing on specific areas where bandits were, they were diverted elsewhere. Say we gave the aerial cover team North coordinates because the bandits were there, they dropped the bombs in the East or South directions. This is how banditry and cattle rustling has thrived – because of protection by powerful individuals,” he said.
More chilling was his revelation that the brazen bandits are deadlier than the al-Shabaab militia, saying the criminals are more daring and boldly challenge and take on security officers.
“These people are bolder than al-Shabaab. The bandits in the North Rift are not cowards. They set up traps and ambush police officers, they shoot and kill them, take the guns and ammunition and go with them,” he said.
So bold are the criminals that they will stage attacks even when a minister or top government officials are holding a security meeting, just to ridicule them.
“That is the nonsense they have always displayed. But a well-coordinated strategy would weed them out because what is emboldening them is that no action is being taken against them,” said Mr Natembeya.
“We are not talking about al-Shabaab; they can’t match these guys. They attack even at 10am and raid livestock while shooting, these are guys will go through a GSU camp and demand to be given njugu (ammunition) and even seize guns. I have witnessed these things and it is not a joke. Until the government forcibly disarms these people, nothing will change,” he said.
Summed up, no one living in the troubled Kenyan North can go to bed with confidence that they will wake up alive the next day. In his words, it is nothing short of a miracle.
“Life in this region is terrible. No one who lives in Kerio Valley can be confident they will wake up alive the next day. No one in Samburu today or Turkana in Kainuk can be certain of waking up tomorrow, it only takes a small provocation for one to lose their life,” he stated.
Mr Natembeya’s interview happened shortly after Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki released a terse statement declaring the six counties experiencing the bandit menace as disturbed and dangerous.
According to the former Rift Valley regional administrator, the now disturbed Kenyan North was the quietest and most peaceful between 2017 and 2021.
He said KDF can crack down on the bandits wreaking havoc in the region within a month if they take a focused approach.
Among others, the Trans Nzoia governor said poor remuneration of police officers carrying out security operations in the region was the biggest setback in the fight against banditry since they end up colluding with the criminals, even supplying them with ammunition.
Unlike many who have hit out at Prof Kindiki, Mr Natembeya said the Interior Cabinet secretary, who is hardly 100 days in office, was still familiarising himself with the region, something he termed commendable.
“He has been able to visit the region – penetrating parts that his predecessors and senior government officials have not reached before, and I think that is laudable. He can confidently talk about the region when briefing the President,” he said.
“Let’s not judge him, what he has done is the right thing, it is the right approach and I want to congratulate him,” he said, amid criticism from disgruntled Kenyans who have questioned the Interior CS.