By Lydia Opee
Though the presence of an institution of higher learning brings a lot of positivity, negative impacts are also bound to arise. For community members of Kitere, rise in insecurity is one of the challenges they have had to deal with due to the presence of Rongo University in the area.
The increased population in the area due to influx of people including students, business owners and other professions has resulted in a number of security issues including rape, robbery with violence, theft and even murder.
“I started my business in 2016 the same year Rongo University was chartered. I was motivated by the fact that the university has been chattered meaning the population will increase. I decided to open a mini supermarket here, which I was later forced to reduce to a wholesale shop after I was robbed,” Millicent Okello said.
She noted that in 2018, almost all of her stock were stolen, therefore, forcing her to rebrand and reduce her shop to a wholesale.
“I reported the case but until now the culprits have never been found, so I just had to move on,” Okello said.
Rongo University as an institution has a total of fifty security guards manning all through the campus.
“Having a total of fifty staff, every building here has a guiding officer. Working on shifts, the security guards often work in pair except at the main gate where we have four guards in total. Since the institution has both male and female hostels, it is our role to ensure that our students are safe at every hour. Every hostel has two officers working both day and night,” William Kiruo, a security officer of Rongo University said.
Despite the institution having a tight security system, there is still cases of insecurity around the campus. Kiruo recalled a case where a female student was raped and robbed as she was travelling from home.
“The student decided to use a motorcycle as a mode of transport from Rongo town to campus at around 3a.m. Upon reaching the school main gate, the bike rider sped off. He took the victim 10 kilometres away from the institution, raped her then took her belongings,” he narrated.
Caroline Mutheu a fourth-year student at the school of information, communication and media studies is also a victim of theft.
“It was on a Monday and I had an afternoon class. Since I have two phones, I decided to leave one in the house as I was just planning on attending the lecture then rush back to my house. I live in a private hostel just 100 metres away from the university. When I went back to my house, I found my padlock broken with all my valuables gone, I reported the case but the culprit was not found,” she said.
Because of the increasing cases of insecurity around Kitere community working in collaboration with Rongo University agitated for the establishment of a police station. Funded by national government of Kenya, Kitere Police Station was built.
Established on April 2020, Kitere Police station is located inside Rongo University and was headed by Sergeant James Odhiambo who led the station since it started operating till August 2021.
“When I was told that I was being transferred to Kitere Police Station which is mainly a university police station, I immediately felt relaxed because I knew that even though crime rates were high it could not be compared with my previous place,” Sergeant Odhiambo said.
“Just on my first week of duty at Kitere Police Station I had seven cases: two concerning the village members and the other five were about students. Theft, murder and rape were some of the common crimes committed by the community around the institution”
According to Odhiambo, Rongo University students have a tendency of abusing Marijuana and some of them have become addicts. This has forced them to take these students to a rehabilitation centre in Migori town. The Sergeant stated that since these students are still young and have all the freedom, most of them after taking these drugs lose control of themselves and engage in criminal activities.
“Marijuana is a very strong drug and most of these students are below 25 years old, some of them are actually still teenagers. So, when they take this drug mostly, they lose control. One time I got a case where one male student who had been abusing this drug forcefully entered in another student’s room then raped her,” he said.
Odhiambo said that in a month he was handling at least twenty cases. Some of them being small cases like phone theft to major cases like murder and suicide. According to him, he was solving cases almost daily.
“I can say with confidence that the situation has greatly changed since the station was established. It took me around eight months to turn that place around. Together with my officers we had to work extra hard to maintain peace in the area. We were patrolling both day and night, in the hostels and nearby homes where villagers reside. During the start of 2021, the crime rate had immensely reduced. From January till the time of my departure, collectively, I handled only forty-six cases,” he said.
Sergeant James was replaced by Officer Commanding Station (OCS), Samuel Onyango immediately when he was transferred.
“This police station serves both the public and the students. It was established mainly to serve the community of Kitere since it has a huge population and the nearest station was 15 kilometres away,” Onyango said.
“We have a good number of officers who guard the community both day and night. The officers have the mandate of patrolling at night to every hostel and at Kitere centre”.
He added: “Every case here is treated just like other cases in every police station because most these students are over eighteen years. When a case has been reported, it will be recorded in the occurrence book. The issue will then be given to an investigator then investigation will kick off if need be.”
Onyango narrated how he encountered a case where male student of 21-years was found in possession of marijuana. Upon searching this student’s room, a number of electronic items which belonged to other students were also retrieved.
In the four months that he has been at the police station, he has handled twenty-three cases. Majority being those concerning the university students.
Onyango said that the crime rate around the institution has reduced, adding “On September 1st I had a meeting with some of the community members and security team of Rongo University, this was an introductory meeting. A number of community members stated how the police station has been of great help to them. They mentioned how they can now operate their businesses without fear. Some of them who had relocated their businesses to Rongo town came back.”
“I have been operating this shop for three years now and since this police station was established, I have had the best experience. I can close my shop knowing very well that I will find it intact the next day. Unlike before when robbery was a norm,” Erick Okwanyo, a shopkeeper narrated.
Okello also noted that she has been at peace since the police station was built as her shop is just few metres from the police station. She claims that even though she lost a huge amount of money, she is certain that her wholesale shop is now safe.
Despite, the police station coming as a huge relief to the public and also students, there are a few challenges which still hinders the process of achieving a proper security around the institution.
Recently, a Rongo University female student was sexually assaulted. The student is residing in the university’s hostel which is supposed to be guarded 24 hours daily. The perpetrator broke into the student’s hostel at midnight. Even though the student reported the case and explicitly identified the perpetrator he was arrested and later released without proper reason.
The OCS stated that even though he assigns duty to every officer around the station, it is still not easy for them to maintain peace and security as some students cannot follow simple instructions like closing the door when they are a sleep or not in the house.
He claimed that some students also usually collaborate with village members then arrange for criminal activities.
Onyango stated that the fact the university has many openings poses a really hard time for them to control who enters in the school compound. “We can be guarding the main gate while other people are entering through other entry points” he said.