Despite their knowledge of the harsh terrain, National Police Reservists (NPRs) often find themselves outgunned in fierce battles against heavily-armed bandits and, sometimes, terrorists.
The job, which entails protecting under-policed communities, requires them to literally put their lives on the line. The only protection they have against their hostile work environment is old rifles and open shoes made from old tyres, commonly known as ‘akala.’
Although they wear the police tag, most of them do not own Government-issue police uniform. Many depend on what their regular police counterparts throw away.
“We are just given rifles and ammunition but no uniforms. We borrow what we wear from other police officers, who give us used ones,” said Mark Chelimo an NPR from Baringo North constituency in Baringo County.
Their role in security operations cannot be overstated. Without them, security personnel would go blindly shooting at shadows in some of the remotest areas of the country.
The reservists, who are residents of these areas, understand the terrain well and are therefore a crucial part of the operations to flush out bandits.
“As NPRs we understand the terrain very well and are therefore able to outmanoeuvre the enemy. This means in most cases we are in the front line,” said Mr Chelimo.
Out in the field, life is brutal. The reservists spend long nights in the cold away from their families as they strive to protect their communities.
They have no patrol cars and rely on hired motorcycles paid for from their own pockets whenever there is an emergency.
When they cannot afford this - which is most of the time - they have to trek for several kilometres wherever duty calls.
Still, these men told The Standard they were proud of their work.
They consider themselves part and parcel of the regular police force, they said. The only difference is they do police work for free.
For all their work, the reservists are considered volunteers. As such, they do not collect salaries at the end of the month.
“Our work is no different from that of police officers - just like them we go on patrols and even security operations. We work together with regular officers. However when the end of the month comes, we get nothing,” said John Kaputie, who is in charge of Baringo North NPRs.
The father of six said since he joined the service 16 years ago, he had earned only Sh15,000 from the Government. This was despite promises last year that reservists would be paid a Sh5,000 stipend every month.
According to Mr Kaputie, this was paid for two months before it fizzled out.
Together with his group of 20 reservists operating from Kinyach along the border between Baringo North and Tiaty sub-counties, Kaputie has spent countless nights in the bush guarding the community against bandits.
At times the team has been lucky to receive packets of rice from the local police boss.
But he has lost some team members in the course of their dangerous work.
In 2014, while on a mission to recover stolen cattle, Kaputie lost two of his colleagues in a fierce gunfight with bandits in Yatya.
For two nights, the reservists fought without water or food. When the last shot was fired, two of them lay dead.
According to them, their work is a brutal and thankless calling.
“I am almost retiring but I have nothing to show for it, not even a decent home,” said Kaputie.
His story of poverty is replicated in the lives of his fellow reservists. But perhaps none captures the sense of frustration than that of Paul Kipsoi, 36.
Mr Kipsoi, who has since quit the service, does not even own a bed. With his wife and five children, he spreads a canvas on the dusty floor of his shack and that is where they spend their nights.
A bullet scar on his left leg reminds him of his days in the NPR.
According to Kipsoi, the reality of life as a police reservist was far from what he imagined when he was recruited in 2011.
He still recalls his enthusiasm on joining the service. Then he was handed a police jacket, rifle and three magazines each with 21 bullets.
“I was given the rifle and the three magazines and told to go and defend my children and the community against bandits - this order kept echoing in my mind,” said Kipsoi.
The father of five said he walked home that day not knowing what kind of life awaited him. He never knew that the rifle he had just been given marked the beginning of his journey to misery.
Two years later, on March 23, 2013, armed cattle rustlers ambushed their village in Arabal at around 12:15am and sprayed the house where Kipsoi and two other reservists were sleeping with bullets.
Luckily they survived, but not before a bullet tore through Kipsoi’s left leg, just above the knee. The rustlers made away with his entire herd of livestock.
He nursed the wound for four days without medication.
“I did not know I had a bullet in my body. When the pain became too much I had to seek medical attention,” he said.
Doctors at Kabarnet District Hospital told him he had a bullet lodged in his left leg and needed surgery to remove it.
After the operation, Kipsoi remained in hospital for four months.
“When I was discharged, the bill had risen to Sh14,000. The doctors wanted me to pay the amount in full but I could not afford it,” he said.
And in all that time, he said, not a single Government official visited him or his family.
Kipsoi said the doctors threatened to lock him in the wards until he was able to clear the bill. When he offered to raise Sh11,000, the hospital refused to take the money.
Then something in him snapped. “I told them I was walking out of the hospital whether they liked it or not and would use my Sh11,000 to nurse my wound,” he recalled.
Only then did the hospital agree to waive the Sh3,000.
Back home, his and his family’s life got worse. He said he sought help from Government offices but there was nothing forthcoming.
Finally, after a long struggle, Kipsoi picked the rifle the Government had issued him in 2011, walked to the OCPD’s office in Marigat and handed it back together with the three magazines with 60 bullets and the jacket, which was by then in tatters.
He then walked back home and never returned to the service.
Kipsoi said in 2015, the police in Marigat asked him to go and pick his rifle and return to the service. He declined, saying he no longer wanted the job as he had suffered enough and had made the decision to look for other means to earn a living.
At first, he lived in a rental house at Kamaech centre where he did menial jobs and managed to save at least Sh20 daily for his rent. He has since turned to farming and is currently growing maize on a quarter-acre field in the area.
According to Rift Valley Regional Commissioner Mongo Chimwaga, the need for NPRs was driven by security gaps in insecurity-prone areas.
Then the Government decided to increase the number of NPRs to aid police in curbing insecurity.
Mr Chimwaga said the engagement with NPRs was purely on a voluntary basis. He however insisted that the Government paid the reservists Sh5,000 a month as a token but conceded that some of this money might have ended up in the wrong pockets.
“I am aware that there could be some human interference between point of payment and the reservists; we should plan to pay them through M-Pesa to cut the links through which money can be misappropriated,” he said.