Kinyuru Munuhe and Irene Githinji @PeopleDailyKe
The government will repossess about 30,000 illegally acquired guns in the hands of Very Important Persons (VIPs) and politically-connected individuals.
Discovery that most owners of such firearms use them to intimidate people and for show-off precipitated the move.
Interior Cabinet secretary Fred Matiang’i and Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet, who are scheduled to spearhead the recovery, described the issuance of firearms as “a total mess” that, if not corrected immediately, the country could soon be turned into “a platform for some VIP cowboys”.
Matiang’i cited a case where two governors have 16 firearms each.
Kenya has about 15,000 private gun owners but officials believe almost 4,000 of them are unlicenced. A whooping 15,000 to 20, 000 others have fake certificates.
According to reliable sources, most VIPs use shortcuts to acquire firearms after parting with between Sh300,000 and Sh500,000.
“After acquisition of ordinary pistols, the individuals use unorthodox means to vary their certificates to acquire more sophisticated, powerful firearms,” said the source. So serious is the problem that some top politicians, senior government officials, businessmen and wheeler-dealers keep as many as 10 powerful guns in their homes that fall outside the functioning cycle outlined in the Firearms Act.
Among such illegally owned firearms are G3, AK-47 and M16 rifles, Uzi, Sterling-Patchett, MK5, CZ Scorpion Evo 3, and MP5, which are specifically used by the military for assault missions.
A police source told the People Daily that a Jubilee governor serving his first term is said to own an assortment of nine firearms that he displays in public while his Opposition counterpart currently serving his second term, is said to own at least seven firearms, including the assault rifles.
Migori Governor Okoth Obado was recently arrested by detectives from the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) when raids at his rural and city houses resulted into the discovery of eight weapons.
A prominent trade unionist is said to be in possession of five powerful firearms as do a renowned wheeler-dealer with clout in the country’s political dynamics.
Cases also abound where prominent personalities have been involved in gun drama on roads, bars and at their homes. At least 10 sitting MPs have active investigations going on over abuse of firearms, with the latest being Meru Senator Mithika Linturi, who is facing probe for allegedly threatening to shoot his partner Maryanne Keittany.
In order to control the situation, the newly constituted Firearms Licencing Board (FLB) will from December 17 begin a 90-day rigorous verification exercise of all firearms certificates in the country following formulation of new measures to control use, manufacture and sale of firearms. Also targeted under the new strict guidelines are ownership of armoured cars and shooting ranges.
In two weeks time, all civilian firearms holders are expected to appear in person before the board for mandatory vetting to certify their suitability to own guns.
“We are deeply concerned by the procedural improprieties that have crept into the oversight of gun ownership and use by private citizens. Some lapses in the licensing of firearms dealers, civilian holders, and shooting range owners have led to the illegal possession, transfer, misuse, and trafficking of such weapons thereby posing major threats to national and regional security,” Matiang’i said.
They are also required to avail their weapons for review and certificates for authentication. The Interior Ministry yesterday directed that persons in illegal possession of any firearm must surrender it to Government within the 90-day moratorium, failure to which the law will take its course.
It further stated that all preferential certifications and special considerations that might have been accorded earlier for specific civilian firearms holders under whichever circumstances have been abrogated with an immediate effect.
Only police, defence and wildlife officers and members of other security agencies will be exempted from this vetting. After March 17, 2019 deadline, all firearms un-vetted certificates held by civilians will be considered expired and thus invalid.
Beginning March 18 next year, the government will embark on forceful and ruthless disarmament.
“The measures have been taken to tame irregularities in firearms ownership by private citizens in the best interest of the country and the region,” the ministry added.
All dealers must get new licenses. It is expected that the ministry will have fresh data on every gun dealer and gun owner in the country.
Interior Ministry warned yesterday that any private citizen in possession of a firearm or ammunition without certification under the new regime will be deemed to have acquired it illegally, a crime punishable by imprisonment and other penalties provided for in the Firearms Act.
Last week, Matiang’i appointed a seven-member new board team chaired by Charles Mwongera Mukindia days after its disbandment and suspension of all gun licenses issued to civilians. Other members appointed to the board are; David Kahinga, Jackson Kimutai Rotich, Vincent Wahoro, Nancy Kabete, Justin Odhiambo Khaduli and Lazarus Mbondo.
And part of the strategy to contain the haphazard ownership of guns by the elites, the entire exercise will be carried out by FLB, which all also “establish, maintain and monitor a centralised electronic register of all private citizens holding firearms”.
All those who would be allowed to own guns would then be issued with electronic cards and their details posted on a centralized government biometric system. Police officers will be issued with electronic card readers to enable them identify those with illegal firearms.
“The government wants to electronically register all licensed gun holders and also establish, maintain, and monitor a centralised Electronic Register of all private citizens holding firearms,” said a senior government ministry official.