"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 a 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 within the region and across the nearby Ugandan border. Residents also have a deep mistrust of the police, who were often seen as brutal and corrupt – and not always without merit. This combination made it more or less impossible for Angelin and the other residents to live normal lives or travel freely outside the city limits. However, things are changing for the better.
Once a month, Angelin Lomukuny and around 30 other residents of Lorengippi take part in a dialogue meeting with the local police force – now renamed to police service rather than force.
"The change is meant to indicate that they are here to serve the people," says DRC’s Raphael Locham. The change is part of a larger police reform and professionalisation effort led by the Kenyan government. As part of this process, DRC trains local officers and authorites in a wide variety of subjects.
At the DRC-arranged meetings, representatives from the village and the police discuss the problems they are facing and how best to solve them. This new cooperation has given residents a completely different image of the police officers they used to fear.
"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," says Angelin Lomukuny.
One of the biggest challenges in Lorengippi’s community-police relations is the fact that officers come from all over Kenya and are posted here by the government. As a result, few belong to the Turkana tribe local to the area. Before the dialogue meetings, contact between the police and locals was almost non-existent – unless someone was being arrested!
Nathan Akal is Lorengippi’s administrative chief. He explains that the village has become much safer in recent years, both on account of improved community-police relationships and improved relations with the neighboring tribes. Previously, the only contact between tribes was during violent cattle raids, and the raiders themselves were always hidden from the police.
However, DRC-organised dialogue meetings between the neighboring communities had an instant effect, much like meetings with the police.
"It used to be too dangerous to travel to Pokot, but when DRC 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," says Chief Akal.
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 for more than 26 years. He is thrilled about the changes that have taken place:
"DRC has really helped us to bring peace to this area. The dialogues that DRC 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 DRC’s efforts to bring together the police and the local community.”