Blowback: Kenya's illicit ammunition problem in Turkana North District


By James Bevan

Kenya has an ammunition problem. The Government of Kenya is fully aware of the symptoms, but it is not aware that it plays a large role in nurturing them. Turkana North District is afflicted by some of the most intense armed violence in the region. The wars that rage between the pastoralist communities in the district and neighbouring regions of Sudan and Uganda are fuelled by a steady supply of small arms ammunition.

The research presented in this paper provides strong evidence of a systematic unofficial initiative to supply the Turkana pastoralist groups with Kenyan government ammunition. It finds that the Kenya Police supplies almost 50 per cent of the ammunition that circulates illegally in Turkana North, ostensibly to provide the Turkana with some defence against rival groups in Sudan and Uganda.

The evidence presented here is fourfold. First, Kenyan local authorities recognize (and even welcome) additional firepower flowing to the Turkana, because the state is unable to provide effective security to pastoralist populations. Second, these ammunition transfers are observable in the same types of ammunition used by the police and Turkana (but not by neighbouring groups). Third, the distribution of ammunition among the Turkana and police- supplied Kenyan state security forces is strongly correlated. Fourth, and crucially, eyewitnesses (including the author) confirm that the practice is commonplace.