(This is the second of two reports focusing on conflict and conservation issues in Laikipia County in Kenya where a number of high-profile private game
Reserves are located. The reports are adapted from the recent Small Arms Survery report ‘Policing the Periphery: opportunities and challenges for Kenya police reserves’).
More than 80 per cent of Kenya consists of arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL)and across much of this area the main visible security force is not the police, but the Kenya Police reservists (KPRs).
The Kenya Police Reserve (KPR) is an auxiliary force detached from
the Kenya Police Service (KPS) and is made up of volunteers operating within their own localities. KPR’ s are armed by the state to supplement the role of the police in providing security where police presence is low. They often guard pastoralist cattle kraals (enclosures) and move with cattle caravans to protect them against raids by other pastoral groups.
Locals have mixed opinions as to the value of KPRs. For many they provide an important first response to insecurity in remote communities where there is heavy reliance on their local knowledge and ability to operate in harsh climates and over difficult terrain, and to provide security against resource-based conflicts and cattle raiding.
For others they are a source of insecurity through firearms misuse, poor training and supervision, a lack of operational policy or governance, and an absence of any formal compensation mechanisms for any misdeeds they may commit or damage they may cause.
The current police forces in Africa were the creation of colonial regimes from the mid-19th century whose main role was frequently the provision of law and order to the colonizers, the protection of their property, and the minimization of resistance from the natives. Thus police services were strongly concentrated in central government reserves and not provided to the majority of the people.
These structures have persisted and in turn have served the interests of many post-colonial rulers, who have maintained a strong hold on their operations and used them for personal gain. The police in turn are also allowed to operate with impunity and thus their lack of autonomy works in favour of both themselves and the rulers they serve.
Kenya is no stranger to localized conflict particularly in the northern arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL), where pastoralism is the most common source of livelihood. Cattle raiding, disputes over grazing land and water sources, and human/wildlife competition are widespread and intensified by high rates of civilian firearms possession: Kenya has an estimated 530,000-680,000 civilian firearms, with an estimated 127,000 illicit guns in Turkana alone, replenished by the illicit flow of weapons from its conflict-affected neighbours Somalia, Ethiopia, Uganda, and South Sudan. In May 2011 more than 40 Turkana were shot and killed in a revenge raid by Ethiopian Merille along the Kenya– Ethiopia border.
Research carried out on the KPR in Laikipia in 1999, 2002 and 2003 found little mention of game conservancies, but today the situation is very different. Two KPR models now exist: the traditional KPR continues to operate, but KPRs are also now working as scouts or rangers in conservancies and sometimes are referred to as ‘conservation militias’ who have become a ‘non-profit army’.
Traditional KPRs are not uniformed and tend to wear ‘shukas’ (large cloths) and open shoes (or no shoes), and carry firearms. Scouts are generally younger and are provided with uniforms, training, and salaries, making it an attractive employment option.
Conservancy security teams are networked and closely linked to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and other groups. Many have radio communication equipment, binoculars, global positioning systems, tracker dogs, camping equipment for mobile security teams, computer and office resources, airstrips, and other resources.
The contrast between traditional KPRs and scouts is stark and a source of tension between the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ KPRs (as they are often referred to). Scouts view traditional KPRs as illegitimate and as ‘members of the public carrying arms’. Scouts are in turn accused of usurping security powers and poaching.
‘Policing the Periphery: opportunities and challenges for Kenya police reserves’, Small Arms Survey report, March 2013.