Did they have to die? Sad tales of rookies sent to battlefronts in volatile North

Turkana police patrol

Security officers patrol at Kainuk town along the border of Turkana and West Pokot Counties. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

When Interior CS Kithure Kindiki revealed that 16 police officers have been killed by bandits and cattle rustlers in the North Rift in the past 100 days, he did not mention that the majority of them were young constables, many having joined the service not too long ago.

Their deaths have shone the spotlight on the police policy on deployment to volatile regions, with Kenyans taking to social media to ask security agencies to look into the matter lest more young officers die on the frontline.

In one of the latest attacks in Turkana County, images of the officers -- who were ambushed by bandits hiding in the bush, shot dead, before their uniforms and guns were stolen -- have been shared on social media, where Kenyans have expressed concerns over the trend.

“Why did the @NPSOfficial_KE send fresh and inexperienced officers to a very volatile area? These young boys are the ones who recently graduated from police training,” Julius Kones asked on his Twitter handle.

Under one of the alleged deceased officer’s images, Gideon ThePhilosopher said, “Rest in peace my friend and neighbour, it's so heart-breaking, you were only getting to start your career. I urge the government to address the banditry with force.”

Fresh graduates

“I have been wondering too. This has become a norm in this country. If this trend continues, we are bound to lose more such young souls. Precautions must be made,” Hustler Number One posted.

The deployment of fresh graduates to volatile zones is meant to instil experience in them, but some Kenyans argue that the risk of losing their lives far outweighs their need to acquire experience.

“Years ago, officers set to be deployed to particular volatile zones would be taken for specialised training ahead of deployment and that would limit the number of deaths. Today, I am not sure if that still happens, but, at the same time, we cannot say that young officers get deployed to these zones alone, they are accompanied by senior officers some of whom have also been victims of these attacks. It’s just bad luck,” a source said.

In his interview with Nation in 2012, Police Reservist Sone Leskono, who survived the Baragoi massacre in which 40 police officers and reservists were killed, blamed the tragedy on the deployment of officers who were unfamiliar with the terrain, betrayal and lax intelligence.

“It was like going directly into a trap laid for you by the enemy,” he said at the time.

Accountability report

While giving an accountability report for his first 100 days in office, Prof Kindiki last week said the nearly 6,000 new police officers who have joined the National Police Service in the last 100 days will be sent to the frontlines to ensure sustainability in the fight against crime.

“The new officers will be deployed to security hotspots across the country immediately to further buttress the security of our people and their property,” he said.

Trans Zoia Governor and former Rift Valley Regional Commander George Natembeya, however, on Monday night faulted the deployment procedure, blaming it for the deaths of many officers to bandits and cattle rustlers in the region.

“Those are not just bandits, some of them are former police officers who retired or were sacked; some are military officers who were sacked because of indiscipline and some are deserters. These are people who were trained together with police who are currently serving,” he said.

Guarding their camps

“They understand all the tricks and strategies, so if you pick a guy from college, a guy who has grown up in Nairobi his entire life and you are taking him to Suguta valley, the guy will, of course, go there and he will die. Because these people spend most of their time guarding their camps because every night the camps are under attack and every time a new commander comes in, the posts must be attacked, so askarianalala chini (officers sleep in the bush) protecting the camps, so sometimes you get the feeling that these bandits are killing these police officers for fun because they know they can’t defend themselves,” he explained.

Such challenges that he said were left unaddressed, and the shooting in the head of a 24-year-old GSU officer from Laikipia, were some of the factors that pushed Mr Natembeya to end his 26-year career in the service.

Referring to the GSU officer, Mr Natembeya said: “We could not get an ambulance to get him to the hospital, we tried to get him to Mediheal and talked to the hospital management to get him, but they said he would just be (in a vegetative state) because the brains were out of his skull, but the worst thing is my commander had already reported that the officer was dead. They never bothered to take this guy to a hospital and then I tried to call even Nairobi, and no one was picking up my calls. I knew I could not call the President to tell him that one boy has been killed, so I decided that I am not going to preside over the deaths of innocent people. I was quitting. Joining politics was not even initially in my mind, I was just leaving. I didn't know where I was going, but I just said, 'I’m leaving'. Guys, it was frustrating,” said Mr Natembeya.