In 1887, the IBEA company seeking protection for its properties in Mombasa, recruited Indians who had already established their presence at the coast as policemen.
Not only were the first Kenya policemen Indians, but the initial police related statutes as well. The Penal Code, the Criminal Procedure Act and the Kenya Police Act were all borrowed from India.
As the railroad moved inland, the IBEAC began recruiting Africans for police duty.By this time the Asians had already carved out a very important niche in the force .
They had a virtual monopoly over the entire clerical aspect of the Police. In 1906 for instance, all police records in Nairobi were kept in Urdu by the Indian police-writers.
By the end of 1927, the Kenya Police clerical staff was made up of 4 Europeans, 1 African and 54 Asians. During WWII, the number of Europeans increased to 16 but Asian personnel jumped to 116.
Away from clerical jobs, the number of Africans in regular service was quite significant. In 1938 there were 112 Europeans, 32 Asians and 1887 Africans. And in 1948, 232 Europeans, 56 Asians and 4682 Africans.
In order to function effectively, the Kenya Colony administration needed more African policemen. Prior to 1911, Africans were recruited and trained at local centres. But after the Inspector General became dissatisfied with the procedure, a Police Training Depot was established in Nairobi
There every recruit was forced to undergo a six months course whose purpose was to introduce African recruits to European standards so that they would function efficiently in settled areas.
According to a British instructor, the African, “had to be trained in a new form of living ..to acquire new convictions, or alternatively, something to balance the lack of these and make him dependable in upholding principles which he can accept but does not appreciate.”
During this training period a considerable number of African recruits left the force because they were homesick for their villages and former lifestyle, or because they failed to meet British standards.
Annual reports showed that in 1926, out of 470 African recruits 284 left, and In 1930 out of 723 recruits, 470 left.
But even those who managed to complete their training still presented a challenge to the Commissioner of Police as most of them always chose to take early retirement. In 1926 50% of the force had less than 5 years service. By 1930 this had increased to 65%.
When an African constable was asked why he was retiring , he inevitably replied “nimechoka.” This made the Commissioner of Police to lament, “It nearly breaks my heart to get that word choka thrown at me.”
There are a number of reasons that made Africans to leave. One was that unlike Asians and Europeans , Africans were not eligible for a pension, and salary increment were poor.
One of the most significant questions was whether the recruitment of Africans into the Kenya police was influenced by a tribal bias. The force had few Kikuyus and many Luos, Luhyas and Kambas. In 1920s Commissioner Roy G.B Spicer noted that the Kamba responded to any call for recruits in a huge number. And that the force was overburdened by the WaKavirondo. He considered Kamba, Luos and Luhya as the backbone of the police.
This was because the British tended to evaluate Africans for service on the basis of whether they came from martial or honest tribes.
There was also the question of literacy which they considered as a major factor in the recruitment of policemen. In 1926 they realised that literate or semi educated recruits were more problematic compared to the iliterate ones. An annual report released in 1936 stated that there was a concerted effort to recruit “suitable Africans from the more backward tribes in the Colony.”
And a 1942 report stated that evidence indicated that iliterate made a better policeman than did literate African, and that the ” policy of recruiting literates should be pursued with great caution.”
In 1949 the annual report indicated that iliterate recruits and the “best material”, were mostly from the Kipsigis, Nandi and a small percentage of Kamba. Literates were mainly from Luo, Luhya and Kamba.
The Police Commissioner went on to add that the uneducated had greater qualities of reliability, manliness sense of responsibility and discipline, while the educated were unwilling to start at the bottom and expected preferential treatment.
During this period the number of Kipsigis and the Nandi grew considerably. According to the British, apart from being good fighters, they were also iliterate, which made them good policemen.
Changes reflecting this attitude were also introduced. Promotion was to be based on loyalty, proved personality and power of command unlike before when promotion was based on literacy. A number of policemen who were not educated were promoted to the positions of Sub-Inspectors and placed over the literate ones.