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Prof Kithure Kindiki, President Ruto’s unlikely security minister

If operators of Kenya Defence Forces and Kenya Police VIP aircraft offered frequent-flyer rewards, the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and National Administration Kithure Kindiki would have more miles than he’d know what to do with.

Almost from appointment to the powerful docket, Prof. Kindiki’s first agenda had him hopping into and out of Baringo, Elgeyo-Marakwet, West Pokot and neighbouring counties in the northern Rift Valley, where he has been overseeing security operations against bandits and cattle rustlers.

The assignment was still taking most of his time when he was summoned on similar junkets into the now infamous Shakahola forest at the other end of Kenya in the coastal Kilifi County, where discovery of a doomsday cult that has claimed over 100 lives has thrust the country into global news for all the wrong reasons.

The full story of Shakahola was still unfolding, when the Cabinet Secretary hopped on a plane again to intercede in clashes along the border between Meru and Isiolo countries.

He declared security zones and deployment of the Police Anti-Stock Theft Unit in the area, and then took a short hop north to neighbouring Marsabit, where he ordered an immediate operation against bandits and cattle rustlers in the expansive county.

In between, he has also been preoccupied with the series of protests called by opposition leader Raila Odinga’s Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya that have often paralysed Nairobi and Kisumu cities.

It was a baptism by fire when Kindiki was tapped by the new government of President William Ruto to head what has always been one of the most powerful and challenging dockets.

His first assignment was to tackle intermittent cattle rustling, banditry and ethnic warfare that has been the bane of the northern Rift Valley for generations, insecurity that successive regimes, starting with Jomo Kenyatta upto Uhuru Kenyatta, had failed to contain.

Soft-spoken legal scholar

The slight, soft-spoken legal scholar with a rather shrill voice was an unlikely security minister compared to a long line-up of predecessors who exuded the power of the office.

He succeeded another former University of Nairobi don, Dr Fred Matiang’i, also an academic but brash and tough-talking minister who, under President Kenyatta, was elevated to a ‘Super CS’ whom all other CSs reported to.

Matiang’i’s predecessor was Lt Gen (Rtd) Joseph ole Nkaissery, who also matched the profile of previous occupants of what was previously called the Internal Security and Provincial Administration docket ambitious, outsize personalities who went out of their way to exude power, with more than a fair share of arrogance thrown in.

President Mwai Kibaki had figures like John Michuki, Chris Murungaru and George Saitoti.

President Daniel arap Moi had GG Kariuki, or otherwise ran the docket himself, supervising a figurehead minister, as did Jomo Kenyatta.

When under the Ministry of Home Affairs in the Kenyatta regime, the security docket was preserve of the Vice-President, starting with Oginga Odinga, followed by Moi.

He would seem a lightweight in comparison, and perhaps to compensate for his slight stature and mild demeanour, Kindiki became the first security minister in Kenya to regularly don military-style camouflage fatigues when visiting trouble spots.

Seeing how far he had come with Ruto and the need to placate him after losing out to then Mathira MP Rigathi Gachagua for the running-mate slot ahead of the 2022 presidential election, one of the most prestigious and influential Cabinet seats might have been fitting reward for the one-term Senator for Tharaka-Nithi.

It might have seemed like a tall order, however, when Ruto tasked Kindiki with tackling the banditry menace in the North Rift once and for all.

It was like he was being set up for failure, seeing as to how the traditional competition for resources amongst rival communities in the region had bred a culture of ethnic militia, cattle rustling, banditry and free flow of illegal firearms.

It was a phenomenon that transcended Kenyan borders into Ethiopia, South Sudan and Uganda, and had defied colonial administration as well as the rough law-and-order regimes of Jomo Kenyatta and Moi.

Kindiki’s first order of business was to enlist the Kenya Defence Forces into the campaign, which involves special authorisation as the military does not ordinarily engage in internal security matters.

Kenya Army helicopter gunships

But even that recalled events in the mid-1980s, when Moi authorised the use of Kenya Army helicopter gunships to strafe villages in West Pokot where bandits were suspected to be hiding.

The indiscriminate bombing resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties that to date remain an unresolved human rights query in the region.

Collective punishment in use of security forces against villages where bandits hailed from became a modus operandi of the Moi regime.

There were also widespread arrests of local leaders, particularly in West Pokot, suspected to be sponsoring attacks against neighbouring communities.

Some prominent leaders like Francis Lotodo were either detained without trial or charged with promotion of warlike activities, a capital offence akin to treason. Still, there was no respite despite all the tough action.

Insecurity remains to date in Baringo, Elgeyo-Marakwet, West Pokot, Turkana, Samburu and Laikipia counties.

Police have often been outgunned and outmanned by fleet-footed youth operating on familiar terrain despite superior firepower, heavy machine guns, helicopters and armoured cars.

That was the situation into which Kindiki called in the military, and after persistent questions by local leaders and others on whether the new mission was bearing fruit, the CS towards the end of last month confidently pronounced it a success.

On April 26, Kindiki told the Senate that bandits had been flushed out of their hideouts.

“All these places, the caves, gorges and ravines, all others that were being used as hideouts for bandits have been cleared and dominated by security forces,” he said in response to a question from Samburu Senator Steve Lelegwe.

The CS said the recent attacks in the midst of the security operation were by bandits who mixed with members of the public after the government issued a 24-hour notice for all to vacate the areas used as hideouts.

Three days later, Kindiki visited the operation zone, where he again declared the mission to rid the North Rift area of banditry a great success.

Operation Maliza Uhalifu

Speaking at the Joint National Police Service and Kenya Defence Forces ‘Operation Maliza Uhalifu’ Command Centre at Chemolingot in Baringo, he pledged that the government will do whatever it takes to end the menace that has affected the region for decades, and directed that the said areas remain under the command of security operation, thus keeping it under virtual martial law.

He was accompanied by the mission commander, Deputy Inspector-General of Police Noor Gabow, and other senior officers.

However, declaration of the success of the mission could have been premature, given that Kindiki’s pronouncements left a host of unanswered questions.

While he announced ‘liberation’ of the gorges, caves, ravines and other hideouts used by the bandits, he was silent on the numbers captured or killed, leaving open the possibility that a large number had simply fled the advancing security forces, hidden their guns and melted into the civilian population.

They would be ready to strike again when the heat cools, as was the trend during the Moi years.

The CS had also told the Senate that investigations had revealed that the financiers and commanders of the banditry and cattle rustling were influential political and community leaders who would soon be charged in courts of law.

He said that one of the top bandit commanders was already in custody and was helping police with investigations.

“We will win this war. It is either Kenya or the bandits. It is either the law or criminals. Kenya will not give way. The law will not give way. It is the bandits and criminals to give way. We will defeat bandits through intelligence-driven security operations.”

There has, however, been no information on arraignment of bandits and their commanders.

The Weekly Review reached out to Kindiki for his comments on some of these questions and gaps, but he had not responded by time of going to press.

Kindiki’s other major headache has been Shakahola, where a Doomsday Cult led by Pastor Paul Mackenzie of the Good News International

Church had persuaded or forced over 110 followers to fast to death so they could ascend to heaven.

The CS was seen to be a bit slow in responding to the matter when the first few graves were unearthed in the sprawling piece of land and adjoining forest, but once on the scene, was quick to declare it a massacre.

As the magnitude of what had transpired unfolded, he broached the possibility of charging the preacher with terrorism, genocide or crimes against humanity.

Multiple murder charges

Autopsies on the bodies recovered so far have revealed that some of the victims had been strangled or suffocated, rather than succumbing to starvation, which presents the option of multiple murder charges.

While Mackenzie is not a very well-known figure in the Kenyan evangelistic movement, a dramatic development in the investigations was the arrest of Pastor Ezekiel Odero, who runs a mega-church in an imposing virtual city in the same locality.

Police believe there is a link between the bodies being exhumed on Mackenzie’s land with goings-on at Ezekiel’s New Life Centre, where televised faith healing sessions attracted desperate congregants for far and wide seeking miracle cures.

Ezekiel is big-time, reputed to enjoy cosy relations with politicians, government officials and security chiefs in Kilifi County and the wider coastal region.

He is part of the network of evangelical preachers who have gained national profiles through their televised crusades and healing sessions, and under the Ruto government are displacing the mainstream Catholic and Protestant in is access to State House.

First Lady Rachel Ruto openly patronises the evangelical movement, and is a key driver of the prayer sessions organised by State House that are often presided over by some of the more controversial faith-healing preachers.

Gachagua’s wife, Dorcas, is also an evangelical preacher and was quick to plead that the entire church be spared demonisation because of the activities uncovered at Shakahola.

Indeed, it seems the evangelical movement is moving fast not only to dissociate itself from Mackenzie, but to push a new narrative that the Church is being targeted.

Kindiki might come up against powerful forces if he tried to make good on his resolve to bring the church into line.

His vow to ensure that Mackenzie spends his life behind bars will be tempered by realities that courts convict on the strength of evidence tendered and witness testimony, not public declarations or citizen outrage.

Already, the State has suffered a setback after the High Courts in Mombasa ordered Inspector-General of Police Japhet Koome to reopen Ezekiel’s church, which had been directed closed once he was linked to the Shakahola deaths.

Another challenge for Kindiki is in the Azimio protests, where he often seems caught between his liberal outlook and a group of government hardliners led by Gachagua.

At the height of the protests, it appeared that the Interior CS was frozen out as Koome and Nairobi Police Chief Adamson Bungei took instruction from politicians.

An embarrassing moment was the controversial raid on the Northlands Ranch owned by the family of former President Kenyatta, which was seemingly planned by Mt Kenya politicians with connivance of the national police command, with the CS kept in the dark.

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