How We’re Dealing With Bandits in Northwest Region – George Natembeya

November 22, 2021

Rift Valley Regional Coordinator George Natembeya answers questions on the security challenges in northwestern counties of Baringo, Laikipia and Turkana.

Two years ago, the government to undertook a fresh registration of all licensed firearms to wipe out illegal weapons, especially in the banditry hit areas of Samburu, Laikipia, Baringo and Pokot. Just how successful was that exercise in view of the recent fighting in these areas? Dan Murugu, Nakuru

It is indeed true that the government carried out a fresh registration of licensed firearms holders. It was actually not meant to mop up illegally owned firearms, rather it was meant to formalise the process for those who hold firearms.

Some of them got those firearms through the proper processes, but you also find one file in the firearms bureau being used by several people. You will also find one person having more than five firearms, which you don’t really need. So that is what we were doing.

The problem that is being experienced in these areas is as a result of illicit firearms. What we have been doing is carrying out voluntary disarmament because forceful disarmament actually is frowned upon by the law. Individuals who possess illicit firearms have been told to surrender them voluntarily. We have had some level of success especially in Turkana South and West Pokot where we now have peace.

We have also seen firearms being surrendered in Baringo. Not very many, but about 100, which is a drop in the ocean given the number of firearms that are held by civilians. And that remains our task for now. We want to see if we can find a window that can allow us to carry out forceful disarmament because this voluntary surrender of firearms is not working.

Due to the many security challenges in the volatile areas in the Rift Valley region, a proposal was floated for the direct involvement of local governors in county security committees. How possible is it to execute this plan without interfering with the security structure of the national government and the concerned security apparatus and formations? Dan Murugu, Nakuru

National security is not a devolved function and therefore governors cannot directly participate in the security architecture. In terms of the structure that we have right from the National Security Council all the way to the location peace and security committee, there is no role for the county governments. But in the areas where a local security committee feels it requires the input of the governor or county government staff, there is room for co-option.

But there is a county policing oversight authority that is established by law which many governors are a bit reluctant to operationalise because issues with security are fairly emotive. And, most of these governors being politicians, find it a bit uncomfortable because they like pleasing everybody and in security you cannot please everybody.

When you took over as the chair of the Rift Valley regional security committee you promised to end the cattle rustling menace. Why is the vice still rampant, does it mean our security apparatus has been overwhelmed? Andrew Maranga Ratemo, Nairobi

I strongly believe that I have lived up to the promise because when I came here, you would find groups going to raid other communities, stealing animals, killing and maiming people. What we have been able to do is reduce the number of these incidents.

Secondly, the number of individuals still involved in such criminal activities has now reduced. You can just find two or three bandits going away with three four goats. And whenever these things happen, the recovery rate is also very high.

In some areas stock theft is completely eliminated. We just have a few cases especially in parts of Baringo, especially Baringo South. It has taken a bit of time to completely eradicate the menace of stock theft because of the presence of a large number of illicit firearms which we have not been able to get due to legal constraints.

Those who have followed you from a divisional officer to an aide of the late Interior Minister John Michuki through to Regional Commissioner agree that you are an organised crime specialist. From silencing FGM in Maasai land to Mungiki in Murang’a, among other achievements. What is your secret? Mwangi Lincoln, Murang’a

Commitment. Just commitment to work, analysing problems that are prevalent in any station I have worked, and going for the root course of those problems. That is why you will go to a place and find that it is very quiet. But what has been happening is people have been covering problems for a long time. You find that the citizens become used to those problems. So what I normally do, I always try to find a lasting solution to these problems. I don’t believe that Kenyans are supposed to get used to problems.

We have got government machinery and I have been lucky to have the support of my seniors in Nairobi, and God has also been on my side for this motivation and good health. I don’t take it for granted. I have been able to build very good teams that thrive. The people have also been very supportive. Even areas that were not very open to giving information in so far as security is concerned because of fear are now giving up the criminals.

Recently, the national government ordered the closure of small police posts with less than six officers and yet some of these posts have really helped to curb insecurity in some areas. Some of these posts were the work of communities who even donated land. Already, some criminals have taken advantage to terrorise innocent people. What was the reason behind this dangerous and strange decision, and can it be reversed? Seth Mwangani, Eldoret

This was a unilateral decision that was taken by the National Police Service. It was informed by the fact that some of these cattle rustling areas and areas that are prone to terrorist activities with such few officers meant they could not even protect themselves.

Therefore, with the limited human resource available it was prudent to just close them. But as chairmen of regional security committees, we came in very strongly and advised the government and that decision was reversed. It is not being implemented now.

Your tenure as the Narok County Commissioner threw you into the public limelight, especially your tough stance on the restoration of Mau Forest. What lessons did you pick from this experience even as the world is coming to terms with the effects of climate change? Do you regret any of your decisions? Komen Moris, Eldoret

The major lesson I learnt during that particular assignment was that politicians think they can do anything. That is wrong. And sometimes, when you do a good thing, chances are you may find yourself alone.

During that time I was almost abandoned on the job. But I was looking at the future benefits of protecting that forest so anything that could happen did not bother me. And you can now see the benefits that are accruing: the Maasai Mara game reserve is alive and vibrant and people even in Narok East are getting clean water.

I don’t regret anything about the operation we conducted. The only thing I regret is that there are people who were duped to buy land in a place where land was not available for sale and our attempts to bring those characters to book were frustrated by people who were supposed to help us. Otherwise, environmental conservation is at the core of my heart.

Sir, can you give an assurance to the residents of Laikipia County that they will vote in August 2022, go back home and continue living their normal lives without fear of any disruption? Stephen Mwaniki, Rumuruti

As I have said, 90 per cent of people in Laikipia are living in their homes. They are going to vote. Their lives have never been disrupted. The small population that lives around that disturbed area of Kirima sub-county, as I have said, normalcy is returning and they are going to vote without any problems.

The challenge was a bit heavy when we started because as I have said, government presence was very scanty. The problem had been underestimated by previous administrations. But now, I believe there are sufficient numbers to counter any security threat.

I want to assure the people of Laikipia in entirety that they are going back to normal lives like any other Kenyan elsewhere.

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