Why State should reconsider hard approach to security in North Rift

Interior CS Prof Kithure Kindiki. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

Recent months have seen a significant deterioration of the security situation in the North Rift region, notably in parts of Baringo, Elgeyo Marakwet, Laikipia, Samburu, Turkana, and West Pokot counties.

This has prompted the government to announce a police-led operation and a dusk-to-dawn curfew jointly with the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF). The underlying drivers of insecurity in the North Rift are complex and interconnected.

A long history of marginalisation and experience of violence has entrenched deep-seated mistrust of the government and fuelled the conviction that communities must provide for their own security.

Cycles of revenge attacks are often connected to livestock raids, which have changed from a cultural to a primarily commercial practice. Youth are particularly likely to engage in such raids because they lack conventional economic alternatives.

Climate change exacerbates this dynamic, because it undermines the viability of pastoral livelihoods and lifestyles.

Given these challenges, the government needs to relook at the “Hard security” approach in resolving the security situation in the North Rift. While this approach may stabilise the situation in the short term, disarmament exercises are doomed to fail if the underlying motivations for owning weapons are not addressed.

The communities are largely unwilling to disarm, because, among other reasons, they mistrust the security agencies. Disarmament exercises are therefore unlikely to succeed in the long run unless accompanied by a shift in mindset.

Communities need to be persuaded that, if they voluntarily surrender their weapons, they will be protected. The security operation should rather focus on building trust with communities and responding effectively and promptly to reports and warnings of violent incidents.

These efforts should be embedded in a holistic approach that emphasises partnership, bridges silos, prioritises the economic development of the North Rift, reduces the exposure of communities to climate change, and deepens trust-building and peace processes between communities.

In the absence of meaningful trust-building measures, military operations may prove counter-effective by intensifying and further entrenching historically entrenched antagonism between communities and security actors.

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