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What Next for the War-Torn Regions?

The Nation (Nairobi), 17 May 2001

It is sad that a month after President Moi offered amnesty to those in the North Rift with illegal firearms to surrender them, only one such gun had been surrendered by yesterday.

Although it had been widely expected that the people to whom the possession of a firearm has become second nature would reflexively defy the order, it was not expected they would use them so soon.

Shortly after the President gave the order to Pokot, Marakwet and Baringo residents to hand in their guns, it was pointed out that this would be a tall order, and that other, more persuasive methods would have to be tried out if the amnesty was to have any effect.

Political leaders at the grassroots, of course, trotted out the familiar argument that to surrender the arms would leave them vulnerable to their war-like neighbours across the borders, an argument that has a great deal of merit. However, they tactfully failed to mention that what they really feared were their traditional enemies within the borders.

Now a new argument, fronted some increasingly belligerent MPs, is that Nairobi and Kitale are more lawless and should be targeted first for pacification.

None of this augurs well for peace in the North Rift. There is no doubt the Government over-reached itself by expecting to collect illegal guns from people who have been using them all their adult lives, in exchange for a vague amnesty.

The fears that even the most moderate of Pokots, Marakwets and Turkanas harbour against their neighbours are real and cannot be easily allayed, especially as the Government has shown little inclination to defend them from their marauding neighbours.

On the other hand, it is always a dangerous gamble to issue threats you are either unwilling or unable to carry through. That just emboldens the recalcitrant to hold fast, or even to carry out acts of sheer effrontery to show they are not scared. This is another mistake the Government made.

And now that the warlike hordes of the North Rift have called the Government's bluff, what next? Send in the police? Send in the army?

Nothing of the sort is likely to happen, which means nothing has been solved. The Government, really, has to get its act together on this one.

Copyright 2001 The Nation. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).