NAIROBI, September 10 – Last week’s revelation that bandits in northern Kenya were being armed by the Kenyan Military is perhaps the worst ever allegation made against them.
In the past, they have been accused of corruption and condoning nepotism in their recruitment drives.
They have also had a share of blame for ‘sitting idle at military camps and barracks’ despite the soaring crime rates at the border points.
While it is understood that the core mandate of the military is to safeguard the country against external aggression, many leaders have in the past felt the need to have them deployed to reinforce the police in providing internal security.
The worst of it all came last Wednesday when a senior United Nations official accused them of arming bandits in the North, which reports the highest number of banditry attacks.
“It is totally outrageous and unbelievable!” Military Spokesman Bogita Ongeri said of the allegations contained in a study by Arms Survey that was tabled at a regional conference on Arms Transfers held in Nairobi last week.
Ongeri dismissed the reports as ‘mere rumours and propaganda’ and said the army was a professional agency whose officers can not let out guns to rogue militiamen.
“Certainly not the army. They can not be doing that, not with the discipline they have. The army are not involved in that at all,” he said.
Chief of Conventional Arms Branch at the United Nations Daniel Prins told the conference the matter was serious and needed urgent attention.
“Close to half of ammunition and arms on the illicit market in the Northern Kenya has leaked away from the Kenyan armed forces stocks,” he said, citing the Arms Survey report.
“This is a serious matter” he said and added that the UN had singled out armed conflict as the main cause of hunger in the Northern parts of the country.
Unless a permanent solution is identified, he said, the crisis was likely to deteriorate even further.
Prins could not however, clarify if the firearms and ammunitions were hired out by rogue army officers or stolen from their armoury.
“Our ammunitions and firearms are always kept and used by our officers. There can not be a situation where they have found themselves in wrong hands. Not even in the Northern Kenya,” Bogita said.
The Northern part of the country is known to be the most volatile part of the country, with at least three banditry attacks reported each week.
98 per cent of the attacks involve the use of firearms and other lethal weapons.
Many communities in the Northern part of the country are pastoralists and many of them are armed.
The government has on numerous occasions carried out disarmament exercises but it does not appear to win the war as there are still more firearms held illegally.
The latest attack was reported in Mandera on Sunday when five people, including two Administration Police officers were shot dead by bandits who crossed the border from Somalia.
At least, seven similar attacks have been reported in the region and more than 20 people killed and houses torched in the past two weeks.
Internal Security Minister Professor George Saitoti blames the cross border attacks to proliferation of firearms from the neighbouring Somalia which has not had a stable government for years now.
Disturbed by recent attacks and abduction of a herdsman by militiamen from the Southern Sudan who raided a Manyatta in Mogila Location, some 65 Kilometers North East of Lokichogio.
The fate of the abducted man identified as Kakeru Amon, 18 remains unknown, two weeks after the raid occurred about 3 Kms from the Southern Sudan border.
Local police believe the Kenyan man is being held hostage by armed Topossa bandits from East Kapoeta County District of Southern Sudan, notoriously known for launching cattle raids in the North.
“A protest letter has been written through our Ministry of Foreign Affairs to the Government of Southern Sudan, demanding the return of the abducted youth and several herds of cattle stolen,” the Minister said at a recent conference.
With or without the protest letter to the Government of Southern Sudan, the continuous attacks on Kenyans in the North are alarming.
They raise key fundamental issues and realities which the government has either chosen to ignore or completely failed to recognize as a problem that needs urgent attention.
Some of the questions that beg answers here include:
-Are police officers deployed at the border points well equipped to tackle the situation?
– If the cross-border attacks are not considered external aggression to attract the attention of the army, then what is their work?
-Is the country’s border too unsafe that militiamen keep striking weeks after weeks?
-Are communities living at the border lesser Kenyans that they can not be offered adequate protection?
-Who is to blame for the insecurity at the Kenyan border?
Unless these questions and many more others are answered and adequately tackled, the problem at the Kenyan border will remain miles away from being tackled.
Southern Sudan’s Regional Cooperation Minister Dr Barbara Marial Benjamin who was dispatched for consultative talks with Internal Security Minister Professor George Saitoti holds the view that the problem in the North requires an urgent solution.
During his visit to Kenya on Tuesday, Benjamin told Professor Saitoti of the need to initiate bi-lateral talks between his country, Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya to search for a permanent remedy.
“That kind of meeting is long overdue, we need to find an urgent solution to this mess because there must be peace at our borders,” he said and absolved his government from blame that it was reluctant in letting its militiamen launch attacks in Kenya.