Not once or twice have local dailies been awash with news of senseless and devastating murder of innocent citizens as a result of banditry attacks in Northern Kenya. In November 2012, more than 40 police officers were killed in Suguta valley while on a mission to recover stolen animals. Come November, President Kenyatta had to fly to Kapendo where more than 24 GSU and Kenya Police Reservists officers were waylaid and murdered by suspected Pokot bandits.
Most recent was the brutal termination of at least 70 innocent lives during clashes between communities in the Turkana-East Pokot border village of Nandome. The attack also left about 350 families displaced.
These are just some of the numerous banditry attacks that have turned the Northern part of Kenya into a scene straight from hell time and again for years now.
As expected we all tend to wholly blame our security agencies every time these atrocities happen. However, a more critical assessment of the entire banditry phenomenon reveals that the problem is more complex than we perceive it. In fact, it’s not rocket science that the numerous disarmament exercises and the deployment of more security officers has bore little fruit.
Therefore, it is time that we explored better avenues as a nation to fight this menace that remains a major threat to our attainment of Vision 2030. Various vital yet despised tactics could prove useful in fighting banditry.
First and most crucial is the re-socialization of the communities living in these regions. History has it that cattle rustling is an age old practice that existed even in pre colonial Kenya. Traditionally, cattle rustling was a cultural practice which was regarded as a kind of sport among pastoralist communities. It was controlled and sanctioned by the elders.
Moreover credible evidence shows that guns did not play a prominent role in the military organization of many East African pastoral and semi-pastoral communities and therefore, few if any lives were lost in that time’s cattle rustling.
However, changing socio-economic and political dynamics have transformed cattle rustling from a sport to a dangerous criminal activity. The inculcation of capitalistic ideals into daily lives of northern communities coupled with vested political interests has transformed cattle raiding into a national menace. It is thus crucial that efforts are mounted to re-socialize the affected communities so that they can understand the difference between traditional and modern day cattle rustling.
Secondly, there is need to raise the quality and availability of education in these regions. In Nelson Mandela’s words, education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. Therefore, how on earth would someone claim they can transform a region where even the few primary schools established are tens of kilometers apart, secondary schools are almost non-existent and there is no university in an area that occupies almost have of the nation?
Thirdly, economic emancipation for the communities of Northern Kenya is a necessity. Research has shown that there is a direct relationship between the rampant poverty in Northern Kenya and cattle rustling. The overdependence of locals on nomadic pastoralism as the only economic activity has turned out to be catastrophic especially in this age of climate change and irregular rain patterns which have led increase in droughts. Most of the time, a majority of animals are wiped out by drought which necessitates raiding in order to replenish one’s stock. Therefore, if these communities had alternative ways to make their living, then it would be easier to persuade them out of cattle rustling. It is time that we figured out on how to transform the anticipated oil mining in the region into an economic game changer for the local communities.
Finally, a deeper insight into the role of local politicians in the entire banditry monster is crucial. It has been rumored time and again that local politicians have played part in cattle rustling. Some are said to be the owners of the cartels that control the resale of stolen cattle.
In conclusion, the peace and stability of Northern Kenya is crucial for the prosperity of Kenya as a nation. This is especially so considering the role the region is expected to play when oil mining begins as well as its strategic location in the LAPPSET corridor. Therefore, it is time we shifted from merely blaming our police officers to taking more effective action to fight banditry.