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Better times await Kenya police reservists risking their lives in banditry-prone areas

By Silah Koskei | August 9th 2015
Kenya Police Reservists keep vigil at Katilu village in Turkana South Constituency, as they trace their cattle that were stolen by raiders from the neighbouring county. [PHOTO/Peter Ochieng/STANDARD].

Commonly known as village boots due to their unrivaled knowledge of the harsh terrain that is the arid and semi-arid northern Kenya, the Kenya Police Reservists (KPR) have diligently protected their communities for decades without pay.

For the past 67 years, scores of reservists have lost their lives protecting their communities from external aggressors in areas that are seldom policed. Many more others have been maimed. Yet successive governments continue to ignore their plight.

The effect of their neglect is more evident in Kainuk town, Turkana County, where a high number of destitute children roam around begging for food from passersby. Most of their fathers, who served as police reservists, were killed while protecting the community.

“A number of widows here have resorted to prostitution to fend for their children. Others have opted to be second and third wives so their children can have fathers,” said Peter Ekai.

Calistos Eragai has served as a reservist for 10 years. His is a job that constantly puts him in harm’s way yet earns him nothing. But he is proud to protect his people, and has no regrets for what he does.

In March, Eragai was shot in his left arm while fighting off bandits in Kainuk. Not one to give up easily, he picked up his gun as soon as he was on his feet again. Who else will protect his community without police reservists, he wonders.

 Deplorable conditions

But Eragai’s welfare, and that of more than 25,000 colleagues in the banditry-prone counties, may soon change for the better. The Senate and National Assembly have just passed The National Police Service (Amendment) Bill 2014 that will improve their welfare.

“The Bill is currently awaiting Presidential assent. If it is signed into law, the lives of KPR will drastically change for the better,” Senator John Lonyangapuo told The Standard on Sunday on the phone.

The West Pokot Senator sponsored the Bill that that has withstood opposition in both Houses of Parliament. The senator has seen the suffering of police reservists firsthand - he comes from a county that has had its fare share of bandit attacks and which, like many others in northern Kenya, relies on the reservists for lack of enough security personnel.

Lonyangapuo insists that the Government must establish a structured framework that will ensure reservists are well equipped and their roles expanded to include intelligence gathering.

“It is disheartening that most reservists live in deplorable conditions even after dedicating their lives to provide security without pay. They deserve better,” he said.

According to the Bill, a commission shall be formed to provide the reservists with training, uniforms, firearms and remuneration. Currently, the reservists are only entitled to a registered firearm and uniform.

“The Bill provides for improved facilitation and compensation for police reservists, when mobilised pursuant to section 113(2) they shall receive such pay and allowances,” reads part of the document.

KPR, which was formed in 1948, has helped maintain peace and order in communities across a region ravaged by persistent cattle rustling and constant fights for resources, especially water and pasture.

Reliable men

And despite lack of military training, the reservists have proved to be reliable in dealing with bandits and providing security to rowad users on the Kapenguria-Lodwar road.

“Our OCS recently informed us on the development of the Bill and we were overjoyed because we know that our lives will change for the better if President Uhuru Kenyatta assents it to it,” said Eragai.

The police reservist says they deserve a monthly pay for the risks they put themselves into in their work. “I have seen my colleagues die by the bullet and before their families are done mourning, their guns are given to others and life goes on just like that. The government has never appreciated what we do,” he said.

Whenever animals are stolen, Eragai says, the always march ahead of security teams pursuing bandits due to their wide knowledge of the terrain.

With no one to take care of them, police reservists had to find ways to better their lives. “We recently formed a welfare group where every one of us contributes Sh1,000 monthly to a kitty which will be used to meet the cost of those killed or maimed even as we wait for the Bill to be assented,” Eragai said.

As a way to appreciate their sacrifices, the Turkana County Government, through the Lodwar Referral Hospital, has been treating injured police reservists free of charge.

“We made it mandatory that any gunshot victim is given priority by the hospital because most of them are poor and cannot afford their medical bills,” said Gilchrist Lokoel, the medical superintendent at the hospital.

Lokoel says reservists ought to be appreciated like their counterparts in Uganda, which has a vibrant police reservists force. “They are trained and paid by the government. Their living conditions are much better than our KPRs, their efforts have seen an end to the proliferation of firearms and created a peaceful atmosphere,” he said.

Turkana County has an estimated 5,000 KPRs spread across villages, with a similar number in Pokot, Samburu, Baringo and other counties.

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