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 and is made up of volunteers operating within their own localities. KPRs 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. A Turkana-based Catholic priest remarked:
In urban areas they do the arrests and they are used by police on most missions. In some areas they act as spies for the police and General Service Unit. In the conficts between Turkana and Merille and Turkana and Nyangatom they fight on the front line. They are acting as kraal scouts, animals scouts, [and] spies, and inform police patrol[s], but they are unpaid.
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.
This paper examines the various opportunities and challenges facing the KPRs in Kenya’s Turkana and Laikipia counties, and considers in particular the management and control of reservists’ firearms, given the wider problems of arms control and insecurity in Kenya’s peripheral areas.