East Africa’s biggest economy is far more dangerous than any other country in the region and sadly enough it’s the civilians you need to be more afraid of than the government.
This is because unlike anywhere else in the region, Kenyan civilians have more guns than the military and the police combined. On average, slightly over one gun is in the hands of every 100 civilians in Kenya.
According to Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, Kenyan civilians own 750,000 firearms as of 2018 up from 680,000 in 2016. Most of the guns are illegal and not registered by the licensing authorities.
“Legal and illegal firearms in civilian hands range from improvised craft weapons like self-loading pistols to factory-made handguns, rifles and shotguns,” the agency says, as reported by a local business daily.
Out of the 750,000 private firearms, only 8,136 are registered, representing a paltry one per cent, meaning that a majority of private guns (99 per cent) are held illegally.
At 750,000, Kenya’s stack of private arms towers far above the 45,790 guns held by the military and 51,527 in the hands of the police, posing a real danger to the country’s overall security.
Skewed distribution of firearms between Kenya’s security agencies and civilians is now being seen as the biggest security challenge facing East Africa’s largest economy.
Cases of misuse of guns, majority of which have led to deaths, have been on the rise in recent years.
In February 2017, former nominated Senator Paul Njoroge sent chills down Kenyans’ spines after he was captured in the full glare of the media cameras cocking and firing his gun at Vivo Energy’s then managing director who later briefly become Nairobi’s deputy governor, Mr Polycarp Igathe.
Two months later, an 18-year-old Form Four student shot himself in the head using his father’s firearm.
Two months before, another student, Brian Kagwe, 22, shot himself dead using his father’s firearm, as his mother watched and begged him not to.
Countless cases of house helps, farm boys and guards stealing guns belonging to their employers are but too common.
Kenyan’s unchecked appetite for guns is a far cry to her neighbours whose governments have in recent years moved with speed to cut down the number of arms in civilian hands.
In the past two years, Tanzania has cut its stockpile of civilian guns by 123,000 while Uganda reduced hers by 69,000 to 331,000.
Ethiopia’s and Rwanda have also taken similar measures and currently privately owned guns in Ethiopia stand at 377,000 while only 66,000 guns are in private hands in the land of a thousand hills.
Compared to Kenya, Uganda’s army also has a bigger firepower than civilians of 114,000 guns, or more than double Kenya’s while the police have 54,000 guns.
Owning a gun without a firearm certificate is illegal in Kenya and attracts a jail term of not less than seven years, according to the Firearms Act but it seems that has not deterred Kenyans from owning guns.
In Kenya, civilian gun holders are licensed by the Firearms Licensing Board – which also registers local dealers and manufacturers.
Applicants are vetted before they are issued a firearm to reduce chances of misuse.
Civilians are barred from carrying a firearm in public places and restricted from owning firearms such as AK-47, G3, MP5 and those with sound silencers.
Philosophers can, however, argue that maybe Kenyans are not to blame and are just copying what their security organisations are doing, stocking up on guns and ammunitions.
Despite having the smallest headcount in the region, Kenya’s military expenditure on salaries and operations remains the highest than its counterparts in the region.
With just 24,150 military personnel, Kenya Defence Forces’ (KDF) spending hit Sh97.2 billion ($963.5 million) last year having risen from $933 million a year earlier.
At $963.5 million, Nairobi’s military spending is more than the combined army budgets for neighbouring Ethiopia ($488 million or Sh49 billion) and Uganda ($445 million).
In Africa, Nigeria tops the list of private gun ownership with 6.1 million guns, followed by South Africa (5.3 million), according to the report.
The world’s gun capital, United States, has about 393.3 million guns in civilian hands, accounting for 45 per cent of the world’s total.
It is no wonder the US has the highest civilian gun attacks and deaths in the world.