The insecurity in Tiaty in the North Rift has been in the news again following the killing of local politicians Pepee Kitambaa and Fred Cheretei. There was also a close shave for Deputy President William Ruto, while on a tour in the area when he became a firsthand witness of a shooting incident from which he had to flee.
This is the same area where, in November 2014, 19 police officers were killed at Kapedo together with 10 Turkana home guards. The killings attracted a visit by President Uhuru Kenyatta to the area and were followed by a military expedition covering large parts of Tiaty. The expedition attracted controversy for a number of reasons, including arguments that the military had no proper role in the maintenance of law and order in domestic situations and, second, because allegations emerged that soldiers had taken a scorched earth approach during the operation, shooting livestock, looting and then burning down shops at Chemolingot and Tangulbei, and destroying water sources.
This time round, the Deputy President has been the face of official response to the latest violence and has, again, ordered a security operation in the area, similar to the one triggered by the killings at Kapedo. The Deputy President has gone one step further, authorising the establishment of a Kenya Police Reserve force in the area, as part of which members of the Tugen community will now be issued with guns for self-defence.
Local and national politics has everything to do with the latest violence in Tiaty. Last week, I met with local leaders from Baringo and the meeting has assisted in piecing together the political dimensions of the insecurity in the North Rift.
Although cattle rustling, and competition over grazing rights, is responsible for a measure of traditional violence among the various ethnic communities that inhabit the North Rift, it has since become clear that the violence has lost much of its customary elements and is now organised for financial gain, at higher political levels. As part of this, cattle stolen from the area now find their way to markets outside and the demand for beef elsewhere has become a driver of this violence. The planning now involves the supply of firearms that are used to stage the cattle raids, the provision of political protection for the industry, and logistics that will turn the cattle into beef in the markets where it is needed.
In order to maintain a supply of people willing to carry out raids for cattle, local political warlords have created and, now fiercely promote, an ideology as to the need to protect “our land”. While this ideology is deployed as the justification for killing and aggravating neighbours, it also ensures the continued political survival of the warlords.
Politics is also a reason the situation will not easily be resolved. Since even local villagers know which politicians organise this violence, it would be unimaginable that the government does not also know and is in a position to act. Why then does the government not act?
The reason the government does not act has to do with Jubilee-Kanu politics. Baringo, where this violence is happening, is the home county of Kanu leader and Senator Gideon Moi. The area is also regarded as a Jubilee stronghold. Baringo is a multi-ethnic county and, as the home area of Moi, is regarded as leaning towards Kanu. Neighbouring West Pokot County elected the only Kanu governor in the country and also has a Kanu senator. Although the governor is now leaning towards Jubilee Party, Kanu still regards the county as its stronghold and will support the area senator in challenging the governor for the seat.
Whereas the violence is expressed along ethnic lines, and the political leaders allegedly responsible have been clearly identified, the Ruto-Moi rivalry, particularly over the Pokot vote, has created a situation where inertia is the only option, because of the fear that any action will upset the existing political arrangements. Whereas the Deputy President promised action to bring the perpetrators to justice, he is not in a position to do so without subjecting his political ambitions to turbulence. As area senator, it may not be Moi’s direct place to act on the violence. However, he can take a clear position and make demands about what ought to be done to address it. Moi’s voice in the Baringo violence has been missing, and this is not by mistake. Like Ruto, Moi cannot make clear demands without creating turbulence in the Kanu support in the area.
That Kanu has since announced that it will support Jubilee in the next General Election further reduces the political cost of inaction over the Baringo violence. In the these circumstances, and quite understandably, the strategy by the government seems to be to do whatever is necessary to reduce the lamentations of the people on the ground, rather than to go to the root causes of the violence.
It is in this context that the decision to give the Tugen people guns must be understood. To be sure, the decision is very popular among the Tugen. As sedentary pastoralists, the Tugen have been sitting ducks in the face of attacks by some of their neighbours who have access to firearms. It was understood that the purpose of previous expeditions, like the one at Kapedo, was to mop up illegal firearms from the area. That the Tugen are now being armed is an admission that the purpose of the previous expedition was not met. Rather than mop up guns from the North Rift, the government has decided to increase the number. In doing so, the government has declared that it will no longer be responsible for security, which it is privatising to the people.
A more sincere approach would have been to shake down the warlords who have built an economy around violence. As indicated, however, the political cost of doing so is uncertain and nobody seems willing to take the risk, especially so close to the election.