Who is to blame for arms proliferation in Northern Kenya? By Samwella Lerno

Samburu County
Election safari correspondent at Siasa Place

Laikipia North at its border points with Samburu and Baringo smells of death, it is littered with dry bones and carcasses. Hopelessness hangs in the air and you can feel despair from the triangle-shaped iron roofed police huts at Lmarani to the ashes of what was once Pokot villages in Lonyek, not to mention the now soot black ghost of Mukutani Retreat lodge.

It is the aftermath of the devastating fight that seems to have set everyone against pastoralists; from private ranchers, police, and farmers. As one writer of ‘The Conversation’ noted in February, “this is not a new issue, there have been many incidents of invasions throughout the past few decades. However, continued framing of current and past invasions as responses to droughts, fail to address the underlying dimensions of resource distribution.

Short-term programmes to address famine and prolonged situations of drought which don’t guard against future invasion and deep inequality within Laikipia between those who reap the benefits of wildlife and those who bear the costs. Additionally, the presence of heavily armed herders in Laikipia and the neighboring counties who do not seem to be petrified by security agencies is astounding.

How resilient are these young people (branded as bandits) that if police respond to any distress call in this side of the country you are assured of loss of life. As one security official once noted, people here do not care about the law nor respect the uniform. The only difference between a police officer and a herder is the former wears a uniform. Herders are well versed with the terrain and at times have better guns than the Kenya police.

Where do they get the sophisticated weaponry? In a bid to complement their security efforts in Northern Kenya, the Kenyan government decided to arm civilians in the name of home guards in the 1970s that later metamorphosed into Kenya Police Reservists (KPR). In a statement released by the Kenya Police on 1st March, 2017 it was noted that a total of 7,609 reservists in the following counties respectively: Baringo 30, Turkana 1,617, West Pokot 685, Samburu 1,486, Mandera 284, Wajir 336, Garissa 116, Tana River 280, Lamu 227, Marsabit 1,585, Meru 85, Isiolo 130, Trans Nzoia 505, Elgeyo Marakwet 101, and Laikipia 142, while Kitui had none. As of 1st March, 2017, an additional of 1,739 had been recruited for deployment as follows; Baringo County 195, Lamu 227, Samburu 375, West Pokot 250, Kitui 80, Elgeyo Marakwet 242, Laikipia 200 and Turkana 170.

There are no further details as to their recruitment criteria or the compensation, the Kenya Police Act 2012 article 110 outlines a good narrative that no one has ever implemented; KPR therefore is just some rural volunteer armed agency with little or no policy framework on management and administrative issues. Kennedy Mkutu and Gerald Wandera in their article Policing the Periphery in the Contemporary Kenya asked, “how significant is or will KPR as an auxiliary service without a salary impact on performance of security and safety be, and what measures can be taken to ensure they are not drifting towards private armed security to survive?”

It indeed, came to pass that KPR not only drifted to private armed security, but majority get converted into animal scouts manning conservancies, and now in Laikipia they have turned against the same government that armed them. More lethal weaponry is easily disguised in the name of KPR, previous security operations have failed to bear fruits as police rely on Chiefs for intelligence when recovering illegal guns, who are not likely to give up the KPRs’.

Kinship ties among pastoralist communities that straddle international borders facilitate movement of firearms from one side to another, and are openly carried under the KPR pretense. Policy makers have for years rode on the rhetoric that culture fuels animosity in Northern Kenya, as a scapegoat so that the electorates cannot ask the real questions like the international treaties with other countries with porous borders like Somalia and South Sudan where arms trade is conducted.

Or nonexistent of explicit legal criteria in Kenya for determining whether an arms shipment should be permitted to transit the country, with all the risks, for example if the weapons get diverted to an unauthorized third party where the market is ripe among the pastoralists communities or the existence of an abusive armed conflict in the recipient country.

Politicians’ actions and inactions are therefore perpetuating cycles of violations, insecurity and suffering at tremendous human, economic and societal costs. Failing to manage the weapons supply chain, weak enforcement of existing firearms legislation including the provision of KPR will continue to feed this vicious cycle of violence.

By Samwella Lerno

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