For decades, citizens in the North Rift counties in Kenya namely Samburu, Turkana, Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo, West Pokot and Laikipia have endured banditry and cattle rustling with adverse ramifications on their socio-economic well-being. The situation, however, escalated and seemed to get out of hand n late 2022 and early 2023, resulting in the government of Kenya for initiating yet another security operation in the 6 counties to “flush out” bandits in the region1 under the leadership of the Deputy Inspector General Noor Gabo.
Subsequently, on 12th March 2023, the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and coordination of national government, Prof Kithure Kindiki, saw it fit to issue vacate orders to residents living in the 27 areas allegedly harboring bandits. The notice issued was only 24hours2. While residents did not hesitate to vacate their only homes, the biggest challenge was where they would go. The already vulnerable population had hoped for better days with the government’s intervention, but one thing was clear, communication lacked as to what measures had been put in place to ensure they lived a dignified life in the new areas and for how long they would live there. This is even after an appeal by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) that had urged the government to offer safehouses and plan for a proper mechanism in line with international human rights law commitments that the government of Kenya is a party, to avert a predictable humanitarian crisis.
After an excruciatingly painful drought, the rainy season began. However, this time the internally displaced population of over 300 households in the North Rift has nothing to celebrate, as they unlike other farmers cannot access their land which they had turned to as one measure to avoid the perennial cattle rustling vice. One month later, women, children, the elderly not forgetting the sick and PWDs are all sleeping hungry in the cold, predisposing them to all manner of diseases leave alone starvation. While other farmers are cultivating their land looking forward to some relief from the drought, the North Rift populations are wallowing in unending human rights violations caused by the very same government that ought to offer protection in the least as an obligation under the social contract.
Constitutionally, this population has outrightly been denied all their socio-economic rights as encapsulated in Articles 43 and 53 (1) (b) and it is a prerogative of the Ministry of Interior to take urgent measures to restore the dignity of the people they rendered homeless. Schools’ indefinite closure and lack of proper relocation plans mean the future of those children is indiscriminately jeopardized further marginalizing that generation.
Whether the security operation has borne any fruits is another vexed question altogether. Even with KDF soldiers in sight, news of people losing lives and property from bandit attacks has recently been rampant in Kenyan mainstream media. The government urgently needs to consider the plight of this population currently living in deplorable conditions and engage in meaningful consultations with the counties’ leadership to stop further human rights violations and contain the humanitarian crisis that has already built up in the makeshift camps.
Penned by Zaina Kombo who is the Inequalities and Discrimination Campaign Manager, Amnesty International Kenya and writes in her personal capacity. Email: [email protected]