"The police are people too"

The people of Lorengippi used to run away in fear, as soon as they saw someone wearing a uniform. But after Danish Demining Group has facilitated dialogue, they now see the police as their allies instead of the enemy. This development has created a whole new atmosphere among the residents of Lorengippi.

By: Sara Schlüter 

In Northwestern Kenya in the regions bordering Uganda, there were massive problems and conflicts between different ethnic groups and between the residents and the police.

"As soon as we saw someone in a uniform, we would run away in fear," says 30 year old Angelin Lomukuny, who lives with her two sons in town, while her husband watches their 30 goats in areas with good grazing at distance from Lorengippi.

Almost all people in this area are pastoralists and there have - as far back as anyone can remember - been problems with cattle raiding across the regions and borders. Furthermore the areas have been definedby great mistrust of the police, who were seen as brutal and corrupt. Not always without merit. All of these problems made it more or less impossible for Angelin Lomukuny and the other residents to live normal lives or move outside the city limits. However, things have changed. 

The police is being reformed

Once a month, Angelin Lomukuny and around 30 other residents from the village take part in a dialogue meeting with the chief and officers from the local police force. Or in fact - that is no longer their name. Their official name has been changed from police force to police service.

"The change is meant to indicate, that they are here to serve the people," says Raphael Locham, who runs DDG's office in Lodwar, which is a few hours’ drive by dirt road from Lorengippi.

The name change is part of a larger reform of the police service that the Kenyan government is currently implementing to make it more professional. As part of this process DDG conducts a wide variety of trainings with officers and local authorities in this area.

At the dialogue meetings, which DDG arranges, representatives from the village and the police discuss the problems they are facing and how best to solve them. This new cooperation has given them a completely different image of the police officers, they used to fear, says Angelin Lomukuny

"Through the meetings we have been able to see, that the police are people like us. They are parents like us. They are just like us."

One of the great challenges has been the fact that the police officers are posted in the area and come from different tribes than the local Turkana-tribe. Before the dialogue meetings, there was almost no contact between the police and the locals - unless someone was being arrested.

But this in all in the past, Angelin Lomukuny underlines. 

The neighbors are people too

Nathan Akal is the chief of Lorengippi - the title of the top official of an administrative location in Kenya. He explains that the village has become much safer in the last few years. This is both on account of the improved relationship with police but also because of improved relations with the neighboring tribes of Pokots and Tepes. The only contact the between the tribes used to be the cattle raids. At the same time, the tribes were protecting their own raiders against the police.

But two years ago DDG took initiative to dialogue meetings between the neighboring communities and that had an instant effect, much in the same way as the meeting with the police did.

"It used to be too dangerous to travel to Pokot. But when DDG invited us to the dialogue meeting here in the village, the people from Pokot stayed on after the meeting, and they ate with us and there was a celebration and dancing. That way people got to know each other. Today it is no longer a problem to go to Pokot and people from here have even started marrying people from Pokot," the chief says. 

Two years of peace

 Back at the dialogue meeting one of the participants from the local police service is 46 year old Alfred Alea. He is a police reservist and has lived in the area of Lorengippi for more than 26 years. He is very happy about the changes which have taken place.

"DDG has really helped us to bring peace to this area. The dialogues that DDG facilitate have enabled the community members to know that we can only achieve peace by talking to each other and working together. We have now experienced peace in this area for the last two years thanks to DDG’s efforts to bring together the police and the local community," Albert Alea says.

photo credit: Klaus Bo / Danish Refugee Council