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Jan 22, 2016 | Publications

Saferworld’s new report “Matching needs with resources: National Police Reserve and community security in Kenya’s frontiers” analyzes the state of the National Police Reserve (NPR), the primary community security provider in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands, discussing the problems the NPR faces as well as identifying lessons and opportunities for improving its effectiveness and accountability.

This report was published as part of a project launched in January 2014, supported by Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which monitors the problem of misuse of small arms and light weapons (SALW) in Kenya. The report reflects field research between May and August 2015 gathered in Isiolo and West Pokot Counties.

This report provides a useful overview of the significance of local security provision in fragile and conflict-affected countries while highlighting key challenges to effective security governance in these environments, including issues of legitimacy, accountability and institution-building. As such, this report provides lessons learned and good practices that are not only useful for Kenya, but can be used to design and implement better local security and justice initiatives elsewhere.

Local security provision in Kenya’s frontiers

Arid and semi-arid lands in Kenya have long been confronted with insecurity stemming from a lack of state-led security provision, resulting in the demand for firearms and thus a greater circulation of illegal weapons in these communities. These areas are mainly pastoralist lands, and often witness violent conflict over grazing fields, water, and cattle raids. As a result, community-level policing in the form of the National Police Reserve (NPR) has taken priority in security provision in these counties.

The report highlights that NPR have been effective in filling the state’s role in providing security in arid and semi-arid lands. The NPRs are recruited on a voluntary basis from pastoralist communities allowing for quicker responses than the state, primarily due to their enhanced knowledge of local geography, language and context. This has resulted in the NPRs’ popularity among the local population. Women are also increasingly enlisting in the NPR, despite past resistance. Traditionally, pastoralist communities have viewed women as unable to perform certain police tasks generally attributed to male gender roles, such as working at night and pursuing bandits in rough terrain. Research has shown however, that attitudes are slowly shifting and women are becoming instrumental in promoting greater accountability in the use of SALW in communities.

Challenges to effective local security governance

A key shortcoming in the NPR’s functioning is the absence of an effective framework, resulting in a lack of control over recruitment, supervision, record-keeping, as well as operational matters such as structures and identification. Formally, NPRs work under the Officer Commanding Police Division and the Officer in Charge of Station. However, due to a lack of clearly defined command structures, local chiefs are often directly engaged in NPR management leading to confusion and discrepancies among communities.

Due to the fact that the NPR are recruited on a voluntary basis, they do not receive salaries from the government, resulting in poor motivation for joining, leaving the numbers of NPRs relatively low, in addition to low morale. The lack of remuneration has also led to the abuse of the NPR by private businesses, such as wildlife conservancies, thereby diverting the original mandate and decreasing effectiveness in security provision. Another identified key deficit is the lack of proper uniform and identification. The report points out that this has led to accidental deaths due to mistakes in identification. Likewise, private entities misusing the NPR for their own purposes sometimes provide their own uniforms, leading to further confusion.

While the adoption of electronic arms registers in the Isiolo and West Pokot counties has been beneficial for increased police accountability, training on weapon safety continues to be inadequate. Although the NPR are recruited and armed by the government, the report finds that basic firearm skills such as safety handling, cleaning, stripping and assembling of a firearm, protocol on weapons accountability, human rights issues, community policing and communication and public relation skills are poor.

Lessons learned and recommendations

Based on the above findings, Saferworld provides recommendations for improved NPR governance in order to transform it into a professional component of the National Police Service. An imperative step is for the Kenyan government to set aside 3% of the annual budget allocation to the National Police Service to meet the needs of the NPR, and ensure the NPR is reformed concomitantly with the national police. The authors find that a budget of 2,130,700,000 Kenyan schillings is necessary to strengthen the NPR as a key concrete step in addressing insecurity and SALW proliferation in pastoralist lands.

In addition to the government, the National Police Service, and the National Police Commission should adopt bottom-up, community-oriented planning and budgeting approaches to allow resource distribution to match the operational needs of local divisions. This includes reforming the recruitment process to ensure gender and ethnic balance, establishing a comprehensive ranking scheme, providing compensation in case of death or injury while in duty, training NPRs on firearms management, and taking measures for the security of firearms such as digital record keeping and mobile armories for storage.

Finally, the report also stresses that donor and development partners should continue to engage with the Kenyan government in supporting reform programs that reflect evidence of best practices and emphasize community-based approaches to security as a key component of long-term stability. The report concludes that such measures are necessary for the proper resourcing and functioning of the National Police Reserve, which forms an integral step in addressing insecurity in Kenya’s arid and semi-arid lands.


Tereza Steinhüblova is a Centre for Security Governance intern and a recent graduate of the University of St Andrews with an M.Litt in Peace and Conflict Studies. She has previously interned with non-governmental and diplomatic organizations in the UN system and her main research interests include international security, post-conflict reconstruction, disarmament, and natural resource governance.