Kenyan Bandits Decline to Hand in Illegal Weapons

A Kenyan government operation to disarm warring parties in the troubled Rift Valley region is off to a slow start. Media reports say a three-day amnesty period for people to hand in illegal weapons resulted in the handover of just three guns. Kenyan police did arrest a local lawmaker for allegedly funding bandits and cattle rustlers, who have wreaked havoc in the region.

Kenyan government forces launched an operation this week to crack down on chronic violence in the Rift Valley. Most of the fighting is between communities over grazing land and livestock made worse by the ongoing severe drought.

The first step – a three-day amnesty for people to hand over illegal weapons – resulted in just three guns being turned in by Thursday evening.

Police and regional officials declined to respond to VOA requests for comment.

Kenyan security analyst George Musamali says the communities in the North Rift Valley region cannot give up their guns easily after decades of insecurity in the region.

“It went in with threats and if you look at these communities, these are communities that have been taking care of their own security. They don’t see the government there," said Musamali. "They would rather keep the guns until the operation is over. Then when the security forces leave the area then, they can continue living the way they are used to because the government is not offering any solutions to the perennial security problems in those areas.”

A security operation aimed at disarming the communities began Friday after the end of the amnesty period.

On Thursday, officers from Kenya’s Department of Investigation unit arrested a Pokot South member of parliament, David Pkosing, for allegedly financing the banditry in West Pokot County.

The legislator was later released and denied the claims of supporting the bandits.

Danstan Omari is a lawyer representing Pkosing. He says his client will appear at the offices of the criminal investigation unit to respond to more questions about his source of wealth.

“We agreed that we would take him there at 4 PM today so that he can respond to those allegations because we were told they have expanded the allegations," said Omari. "Now they want us to respond to the allegations that the member of parliament is involved in money laundering and that the helicopter he has they will want to take a photo of the helicopter and lastly, they want to see how he has benefited from banditry, the commercial aspect of banditry.”

Pkosing told VOA some politicians from rival communities closer to the government were inciting authorities against him and his community.

He says the government needs to create a program where the warring communities can feed and move their animals freely in the region.

“We want the government to approach it in a structural manner. Let us allow the Turkanas, the Samburus, the Pokots, and the Marakwets," said Pkosing. "The entire of this place where there is distress, let us bring order in terms of access to grass and water. If there is order, there is no conflict at all, but for now, there is no government.”

The communities in Baringo, West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet, Samburu, Laikipia and Turkana have been stealing animals from each other, leading to communal tensions and conflict.

Experts are urging the government to change its approach to dealing with the banditry threat and begin improving the lives of the communities by constructing roads, schools, and water points, as well as encouraging the community to start farming as another source of income.

Source: Voice of America