KENYA: Defying orders to surrender illegal guns

Thursday, March 22, 2007
The severe drought in northern Kenya last year and cattle rustling have wiped out more than half of Halake Wario's livestock, but failed to dampen his determination to remain a pastoralist.

"Livestock keeping is part of my Borana tradition but it is risky and tough," Wario told IRIN in Marsabit district. "Many people have been killed in the past and livestock stolen, [leaving] many families poor, but I wish the same lifestyle for my children."

Most of the deaths occurred when raiders from cattle-rustling communities in neighbouring Garissa District came to steal livestock from Wario's community in Marsabit. Many of his fellow Boranas died trying to defend their livestock from the raiders.

After losing more than 100 head of cattle and a similar number of sheep and goats to raiders, Wario decided the best option was to acquire a gun.

"We found a solution and managed to prevent frequent attacks from our Garissa neighbours after acquiring guns," he told IRIN. "Deployment of police officers after the attacks was not the solution … now we live in peace."

Conditions in northern Kenya are harsh, with drought a common feature of the semi-arid region. Conflicts between the pastoralists and with communities from neighbouring Ethiopia are also common. In 2005, more than 70 people were killed when raiders suspected to be from Ethiopia attacked villages on the Kenyan side of the border.

According to observers, conflicts are rampant in the region, partly because of local traditions as well as the large number of illegal guns. But like Wario, many residents of Marsabit insist they need the weapons to protect their lives and livestock.

The view is shared by civil rights groups, development agencies and local leaders, who argue that the government’s failure to provide security forced the residents to acquire guns.

Orders defied

The pastoralists in the region have kept their weapons despite numerous orders by the Kenyan government to surrender their guns. A recent announcement that the state planned to enact a law so that anyone found with illegal guns faced life imprisonment made no difference.

Yussuf Dogo, an official at a local non-governmental organisation, Friends of Nomads International, said orders by the government and harsh security measures intended to retrieve the guns would not succeed but only lead to further violation of human rights.

"It is very unfair to punish or brand as violent a community for protecting itself," Dogo said. "Every human being and even wild animals have an obligation to protect themselves."

He suggested that maintaining security in the vast region could be easier and cheaper if the local communities were involved - a view shared by Samburu councillor Daniel Legerded.

According to Legerded, the Samburu pastoralists suffered more than 20 attacks after they surrendered 2,000 guns to the government in 2006.

"Security men were deployed to the affected areas but they did not stop the attacks; many people were killed," he said. "It is obvious Samburus will not repeat the mistake [of handing back guns]."

Blame game

Like many residents in the area, he blamed the government for failing to contain inter-communal conflicts in northern Kenya, claiming there was selective disarmament. "Our neighbours were not forced to surrender guns and even the state provided them with guns and police reservists after their leaders pledged to support the government," he claimed. "They have used them to attack us."

However, Hussein Sasura, Member of Parliament for Marsabit constituency and assistant government minister for public works, said guns issued by the government for containing security in the region had been abused.

This had aggravated conflict in the region, he added, citing the 30 people who had died in gun fights in Marsabit over the past two months.

"We have two types of guns: those owned illegally and those issued by the government - they are all causing chaos," Sasura told IRIN. "Police reservists have been recruited; it is a noble idea, but the process and procedure must be reviewed."

"Women and children cannot access water points because they are threatened with guns issued by the state," Sasura said. "It must stop."

Marsabit district commissioner Mutea Iringo said the possession of illegal guns could not be justified, insisting that government had tried to restore and maintain peace in the vast region. Guns, he insisted, were not the solution to the insecurity that had affected the pastoralists.

Iringo's view was echoed by Chachu Tadicha, a peace campaigner in Marsabit. Attributing the persistent conflicts in the region to several factors, he said peace could only be ensured through a campaign for non-violence, youth empowerment and provision of more water points and livestock markets.

Illegal weapons are neither registered with the police or military, nor licensed to civilians. Observers say Kenya's northern region lies along a gun-trafficking corridor that stretches from Somalia to southern Sudan and northern Uganda.

Last week, authorities in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, destroyed 8,000 weapons recovered by the police over the past few months. This brought to 12,000 the total number of illegal weapons destroyed in the country over the past few years, but at least 100,000 are still believed to be in circulation, against 4,000 that are properly licensed.

Across East Africa and the Horn of Africa, more than 600,000 illegal weapons are in circulation. According to Francis Sang, executive secretary of the Nairobi-based Regional Centre on Small Arms, the most common are the G-3 and AK47 rifles, as well as pistols such as the US Colt, Browning, Beretta and revolvers.
Author: IRIN
Source: IRIN
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