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Effects of Cattle-rustling on the Social, Economic and Political Fronts
Endemic cattle-rustling and livestock theft among the pastoralist communities have led to the
following outcomes on the pastoralists’ socio-economic and political fronts.
Insecurity and systemic violations of human rights-Livestock theft has been reported to be
one of the major causes of insecurity in the pastoralist areas in Kenya and its neighboring
communities. Livestock theft has affected mainly the Turkana, the Samburu, Pokot, Rendille,
Tugen, Marakwet and Keiyo communities. The many years of government’s negligence in
security intervention has been attributed to the high levels of insecurity in the area. Even where
the state has intervened by sending its security troops, reports of gross human rights violations
have been reported, with the security agents being the greatest perpetrators of the violations.
Reports of cases of rape, torture, loss of property and even loss of lives have been recorded at the
hands of state security agents as well as by non-state actors as was witnessed in the Kanampiu
attacks of September 2009. The following tables and figures (drawn from the list given to KHRC
of the deceased members of the Samburu community following the Kanampiu attack is
illustrative of the violation of the right to life as well as to the right to safety and security of the
individual person in the ASALs, Kenya Human Rights Commission [KHRC]. (1998)
Persistent Economic Hardship-The practice of livestock theft has led to poverty and despair
amongst the affected communities. In the 1980’s, 80% loss of livestock was reported among the
Turkana and Pokot communities. By 1982, over half of the Turkana population (180,000) was
seeking refuge in refugee camps depending on relief supplies. Today, the pastoral communities
continue to face great financial hardships due to, among others, persistent marginalization and
the increase in incidents of livestock theft. The practice of livestock theft has continued to
impoverish the pastoralist communities, and with the recent commercialization of the practice, it
is only the unscrupulous traders who benefit at the expense of the local communities, Wairagu,
Endemic Under-development-The rise in cattle raids amongst the pastoralist communities
remains a disincentive to the government and other stakeholders to invest in the region. This has
thus contributed significantly to the successive marginalization in the region, with development
projects being instead diverted to other ‘stable’ regions. The ASALs regions have thus been
characterized with poor road networks and communication systems, few industries, schools and
healthcare facilities. However, the government has in the recent past put in place initiatives that
seek to empower these communities as shall be discussed below, Kimenju, (2003).
2.8 Casual Factors of New Trends in Banditry and Cattle Rustling
There are casual factors that result to new trends in banditry and castle rustling as discussed
Ecological instability- The pastoralist understanding and response to ecological pressures were
systematically eroded by colonialism. This was affected through the drawing of ethnic and
national boundaries as well as by the restriction of cattle movements. These measures greatly
affected the transhumant patterns already mastered by the pastoralists from their long experience
with ecological hardships (Odegi-Awuondo 1992). The pressures resulting from colonial
boundaries and perpetuated by the Kenyan post-colonial governments are clearly evident in the
inter-group raids and conflicts along the borders. These fixed boundaries were drawn with little
regard to seasonal variations and the needs of the people for pasture (Galaty et al 1980). During
good rains livestock have enough pasture to eat. However when the rains fail and droughts occur
animals are often taken to territories belonging to other clans or ethnic groups. This may lead to
conflict. Very often the pastoralists destroy the crops on the farms. For example, such an incident
led to serious ethnic conflict between the Samburu pastoralists and the Kikuyu in Laikipia
district in February 1998 causing the death of 70 people (Daily Nation 13 Feb 1998).
In pre-colonial times pastoral societies used migrations as a panacea for droughts. But the
imposition of boundaries destroyed this possibility, and was totally at variance with the
understanding of boundaries by the pastoralists who responded to ecological demands.
Consequently, massive deaths of cattle led to raids as one of the options of replenishing the
depleted stocks (Ocan n.d., Odegi-Awuondo 1992). The major effect of the colonial policies
which restricted movement was the creation of demographic pressures. These reduced the ability
of the pastoralists to sustain large herds. These inimical policies have continued under post-
independence government. Salih (1992:34) notes that the fact that most Sahelian borders are
contested by states and pastoral groups is a clear indication that the state is largely ignored by
these pastoralists in reaction to state marginalization of their interests when national policies are
discussed. Besides the socio-ecological factors, the pastoralists have to contend with natural
calamities such as drought and famines. In Kenya serious droughts occur once every decade
(Galaty et al 1980:144). The prevalence of this phenomenon has had adverse effects on animal
production, and has often led to famines. According to Mamdani “natural catastrophes no longer
have equal impact; in a way they benefit some in terms of obtaining cheap labour and land, while
causing destitution to others through loss of stock and land” (Ocan n.d.:14).
Militarism-New forms of banditry and cattle rustling have emerged, over which the elders have
no control. In the last two decades a number of pastoral societies have become militarized and
increasingly rely on firearms. Although cultural or social phenomena change over time, there
still remains continuity in many respects. Historically, cattle raiding have undergone
fundamental changes in terms of causes, effects and content. However, varying old tendencies of
raids have survived while new ones have also emerged. Markakis (1993:13) argues that today
conflicts among pastoralists have taken new, exaggerated dimensions. This he attributes to a
shrinking resource base, which has provoked a desperate struggle for survival in which
dependence on relief provision. According to Baxton (Markakis 1993:14), this state of affairs
can be attributed the existence of some groups is threatened. This struggle is waged using new
sophisticated firearms, and verges on ethnocide, where neither pastolarists nor children are
spared. What has been said about war, that it can be seen as “one of the modes of destruction
which varied in accordance with available technology” (Hutchful & Bathily 1998:11), is also
applicable in this case.
These weapons have become vital to the pastoralists. They are invaluable for groups to remain in
the pastoral economy and to defend their communities, since the government seems unable to
provide security. Ironically, African governments, rather than resolving long-standing ethnic
conflicts, have tended to provide weapons to one group to fight against another. The new forms
of violence are characterized by the commercialization of banditry and cattle rustling. Dietz
refers to this as the “crudest form of primitive accumulation” (Markakis 1993:13). Cattle rustling
have pauperized thousands of pastoralists in East Africa, as one Ugandan newspaper states: “For
without a gun, therefore without cattle in an ecology where cattle are the only answer in the
immediate short run you cannot help being a pauper, a destitute” (New Vision 1990:8). After
1979 the process of undermining pastoralism in Kenya gained momentum because of a
combination of factors. First, cattle diseases wiped out most of the livestock. Secondly, a two-
year drought caused harvest failure and famine. Thirdly, an upsurge in cattle raids and military
attacks by heavily armed Karamajong and Turkana, collectively termed Ngorokos (bandits), took
place. These bandits had sophisticated weapons which they had acquired from ex-president Idi
Amin’s fleeing soldiers in Uganda. In 1984 to 1986 the Kenyan government sent a punitive
military operation into the Pokot district, purportedly to seize illegal firearms. During the
operation thousands of Pokot livestock were confiscated by the government while others died
due to drought or lack of proper attention while in the hands of the security forces. The Pokot
have never forgiven the government for this callous act against them and their livestock.
By the mid 1980s about 75% of the Pokot had no livestock left (Magut interview 1998) and they
had to look for a new economic base. This included a combination of rudimentary agriculture,
gold panning in the mountain streams, dependency on charity in the form of food aid from the
missionaries and NGOs, casual labour in the market centres, and some other options. Nearly all
the Pokot adopted in one way or another these short-term survival strategies to keep body and
soul together. The government action can therefore be seen as evidence of attempted
depastoralisation of the Pokot. According to Fukui “the state does not simply affect warfare in
the tribal zone by its presence or merely intervene in conflicts between third parties. The state
itself is both the arena and a major contestant, when it is not the very object of conflict”
(Markakis 1993).
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