EDITORIAL: Cut number of illegal guns in private hands

George Natembeya
Narok county commissioner George Natembeya displays firearms seized in a security operation in Trans-Mara. PHOTO | GEORGE SAYAGIE | NMG 

Geneva-based Small Arms Survey’s finding that more than 740,000 illegal firearms are in the hands of private Kenyans must have come as a surprise to many.

Most Kenyans will, however, agree that with the ever raging wave of gun crimes, there was always a reason to believe our control over illegal gun ownership had waned almost to nothing. But no one imagined that it was bad to the extent ordinary citizens could illegally acquire 70,000 firearms in just two years.

The shocking thing is that at 740,000, the number of illegal firearms is many times more than the 97,317 in the hands of the military and police combined, basically implying that criminals can outgun the security forces.

This is unacceptable state of affairs that runs counter to the basic idea that State must maintain a monopoly of violence to be effective.

In the recent past, the Kenyan government has spent tens of billions of shillings to staff and equip the security sector – meaning value for the money should show in critical areas such as limiting the influx of illicit arms.

Ordinarily, the number of illicit firearms coming in should be falling because the country is now better positioned to police its borders. That does not appear to be happening given these latest numbers.

Security underpins a society’s progress and its absence is the defining character of a failed State.

The point is that Kenya’s security agencies cannot say they have no idea where the arms are coming from.

Kenya has porous borders shared with Ethiopia, South Sudan and Somalia where arms traffickers are known to be active.

This requires effective surveillance by various agencies including the national intelligence service, the police and customs officials, working with local communities to break the gun running networks.

There is also official lethargy in mopping up illegal guns already in the country, especially among pastoralist communities where open bearing of arms is accepted, ostensibly to afford them protection from cattle rustlers.

That reason, however, conveys the message that authorities have given up on taking charge of these regions.

Providing security to the public is the sole mandate of the government and no citizen should hold guns illegally for protection

For pastoralists to surrender their guns, however, the government must assure them of security.

A national strategy must be crafted to rid the country of illegal firearms.