Words from Kenya

A Night of Gunfire in Isiolo

Cows in Northern Kenya

Last night people living in the areas immediately to the south and west of Isiolo town listened anxiously to more than two hours of gunfire.

At around half past nine the first gunshots were heard to the south of the town, where livestock were being stolen. It is thought that close to 20 cows and a large number of goats were taken and then driven off towards the west. At first the gunshots were intermittent, it seems that the raiders were shooting to warn off any followers. Their path westward could be guessed at from the sound of gunfire as they went along.

After about an hour the gunfire became more intense and frequent. The gunfire was coming from several different directions and it was obvious that people were exchanging fire. Repeated bursts of automatic gunfire continued until nearly one in the morning.

This morning the local information was that the raiders had been ambushed, a fight ensued but the raiders appear to have escaped. They were not able to take the livestock with them however and all, bar one cow that was shot, have been recovered.

Several people asked me last night whether the police were assisting, or available, during the shooting. As far as I can tell they took no significant part in the ambush and recapture of the livestock. Though I believe they did provide security for the recaptured animals overnight at a police post. This means that local people were responsible for rescuing the animals and, as it seems they were not KPR, the guns they used were almost certainly illegal (it is very hard for most people to get a private gun licence here).

This highlights an important point about the proliferation of illegal weapons in northern Kenya. The majority of people who have illegal weapons hold them not so that they can raid, steal or murder but for their own protection, and for the protection of their family and livestock. Raiding, theft and murder is mostly undertaken by a relatively few criminal individuals, or gangs, who tend to be repeat offenders. The reason why so many otherwise decent people go to the extreme lengths of purchasing and possessing an illegal gun is because there is little or no police security available to protect them.

Operations to remove illegal guns from communities in northern Kenya tend to be of short term benefit. Insecurity forces people to re arm themselves time and time again. For disarmament to be a success it must be accompanied by more widespread and reliable policing.

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