In-depth: Another Kenya - The humanitarian cost of under-development

KENYA: Dansa Adan Surura, "From bandit to peace campaigner"

Peace campaigner Dansa Adan Surura
MARSABIT, 25 October 2010 (IRIN) - Efforts continue to stem endemic banditry and cattle-rustling in the mostly pastoralist areas of northern Kenya, with community leaders and professionals organizing "peace caravans" to inform and educate the public on the need to live together peacefully. Some of the campaigners include reformed bandits, such as Dansa Adan Surura, 36, who in his heyday was a notorious bandit in Marsabit district.

Surura spoke to IRIN about his transformation from gang leader to "peace warrior":

"My name, Dansa, means good in our Borana language. However, for about 16 years or so of my life, I was anything but good.

"My life in the world of crime started when I was a boy, when I dropped out of high school in 1992. I was in form II at Marsabit High School. My parents could not afford to pay school fees and I still remember, with bitterness, the day I was instructed to leave the classroom; it was the most painful day of my life. I believe leaving school influenced my decision to engage in crime.

"Soon after, I left home. I went to Nagayo, a grazing area far from Marsabit, to help a relative herd his livestock. It was during my three months at Nagayo that I learnt to use a gun, which we used to fight off raiders attacking the grazing area.

"At Nagayo, I was frustrated; I kept thinking about the plight of my poor parents, brothers and sisters. I then decided to use my new gun-fighting skill to help them. My first solo raid in Marsabit town was successful; it motivated and offered me a fresh opportunity to assist my family.

"From the first raid, I got the courage to recruit other youths. I trained them to use guns. We used the loot we got to cater for our families. I paid school fees for one of my brothers but my parents later declined to accept any money from me when they learnt I was engaged in banditry.

"My involvement in banditry caused my family a lot of suffering; they were harassed by the police. I spent several years in Kamiti, King’ongo and Naivasha maximum prisons. I was identified as a most notorious bandit. At one time, I fled to Ethiopia where I tried to join ONLF [Ogaden National Liberation Front] rebels but, luckily, I secured employment as a teacher for three months.

"I later returned to Mandera [in Kenya] where I surrendered to the police. I was arrested and later charged with an offence I did not commit. After the court set me free last year, I resolved to change my life.

"I am happy that security officers, national intelligence officials, local leaders and elders have offered me support since I opted to reform. So far, I have convinced more than 15 former colleagues to quit banditry.

"I believe the use of force will not end incidents of insecurity, killing and raids in northern Kenya. Many youths like me engaged in crime because of poverty. We have many bandits who are very cheap to hire, some are only provided with food and clothes to commit serious crime.

"The youth need support to start small businesses, some can go back to school. We must all advocate and commit ourselves to restoring peace.

"As a peace campaigner, I am striving to live as a good person in the community and portray the true meaning of my name, Dansa."