Cattle Rustling a Dirty Business


Muiruri John Kimani, Senior Researcher, Mifugo Project, ISS Nairobi Office

Cattle rustling in Eastern Africa appear to have become a truly murky business. One can say this of the politics, the money involved, the casualties and in many instances the attempted interventions. One may wonder: but haven't we heard all this before? Why the apparent impotence of a seemingly sophisticated modern age that is contemplating space-tourism yet cannot find a lasting solution to a problem that should belong to a past era?

Unfortunately, cattle rustling, to the informed, would appear to embody all that is wrong with our systems of governance, politics, economics and sheer ineptitude that appear to be the hallmark in the region.

In the dirty business that is cattle rustling, none of our hands are clean. This is evidenced in a comprehensive study by the ISS, entitled the 'Political Economy of Cattle Rustling' that sought to establish the nexus between politics, economics and cattle rustling - referred to as the political economy of cattle rustling.

The study points to 'emerging political complexes' that fan cattle rustling and undermine any efforts at ending the menace. The political complexes are intertwined by an economic agenda not only of the actual perpetrators - raiders - but in all manner of subtle ways. All the stakeholders, be they in government, civil society, development agencies, community leaders, and, interestingly, researchers who are engaged and purport to be looking for solutions to the problem, are involved.

The study adopts the terms 'conflict entrepreneurs', 'conflict exploiters' and 'conflict dependants' to categorize the stakeholders benefitting from cattle rustling. The fundamental aspect of cattle rustling is the debilitating state of insecurity that characterise areas where cattle rustling is predominant namely pastoralist areas. Conflict creates barriers, most notably, selective forms of access to livestock and livestock products and their markets.

Limitations experienced by pastoralists facilitate exclusionary and predatory behaviours by those who see and exploit opportunities that are 'mid-wifed' by cattle rustling. Here economics - especially politically inclined ones - are significant. The study defines political economy of conflict as 'the distribution of power, wealth and destitution during armed conflict, in order to expose the motives and responsibility of those involved within a historical context.'

Conflict entrepreneurs comprise of a category of beneficiaries, particularly young warriors who have graduated from the 'community-warrior machine' that socialises them to believe that being a man means having rustled thousands of livestock. These warriors derive their authority and status in society by their exploits on the battlefront and are therefore always the most daring in their raids to an extent where they sometimes send prior warning to their victims about an impending raid. Not only do these warriors want to proove their masculinity but they also near 'worship' their livestock - the more they have, the more satisfaction they derive from life.

It is the above category that initiates armed conflicts for the sole purpose of getting or rooting livestock from wherever and whomever they decide to attack. The warriors are heavily armed and believe that the gun was part of their culture and assume that as individuals they bear the primary responsibility to provide security to their communities and to themselves.

In simple words, 'conflict entrepreneurs' are basically criminals or outlaws who will sustain cattle rustling for as long as it remains the 'viable' option for them to sustain their 'warrior-rustling-machinery'. To prosecute this, they strive to maintain a stranglehold on every resource necessary to propagate cattle rustling. They almost cannot envisage an environment without cattle rustling.

Unfortunately, elements in the above category are increasingly transforming cattle rustling into a commercial venture. The raided livestock is sold to generate cash income used to finance delinquent engagement and possibly, conspicuous consumption of luxury items.

'Conflict exploiters', on the hand, comprises those warriors, and non-warriors alike, who exploit the state of lawlessness, and largely, absence of state institutions, in the pastoralist areas to engage in criminal activities that include cattle rustling. Conflict exploiters take advantage of the lapses or weaknesses of the state in enforcing law and order and use the opportunity to mount opportunistic 'surprise' raids on their unsuspecting victims.

Indeed, this predatory group often looks for weaknesses not only of the state machinery but also in the defences of their victims and once found, mount ruthless raids. Lumped together with the raiders are the local administrations that equally take advantage of the general insecurity in their areas to generate benefits from directly or indirectly supporting cattle rustling.

There appears to be an alliance of sorts between the warriors and the politicians - a situation that makes it difficult for the political elite to disassociate itself from the interests of the raiders. For some, the payback is either direct support or condoning the menace by providing political cover and protection or, indirectly offer their sympathy by not supporting any interventions that is likely to end the vice. This partly could explain why the problem persists. For their own survival, conflict exploiters will continue to thrive in situations predisposed of lawlessness where conflict is a perfect bedrock.

The most disheartening aspect of this category is that it also includes some rogue elements in the security machinery that is primarily charged with the task of maintaining law and order and seize the opportunity offered by the insecurity for self enrichment. In some instances, they have been accused of selling recovered and confiscated livestock, selling arms, releasing criminals, offering or ignoring intelligence while they dilly-dally in the pursuit of raiders.

'Conflict dependants' are a more benign category of people who engage in cattle rustling and crimes associated with it, for the sole purpose of survival. Cattle rustling, for this category, is an opportunity or mechanism that is necessary to sustain or support livelihoods in an adverse environment. Naturally, this category is equally committing a crime, not any different from the other two categories albeit less frequent and violent.

To this category of people, irrespective of the composition of the related criminal activities involved, they believe that they either engage in livestock raids or suffer the adverse effects of hunger, famine and ultimate destitution. Fortunately, 'conflict dependants' are a category of people who are more amenable to dissuasion away from cattle rustling and related crimes. They would be dissuaded if alternative opportunities were provided to them where they can derive sources of livelihood.

During the period of the study, as well as in other engagements in the pastoralist areas, the communities continually ask whether they are also citizens of the various states in the region? This is in light of the sheer magnitude of neglect they suffer while the rest of the country continues to stride towards unparalleled development and improved overall human security.

The communities cry out for help from researchers focusing on this issue, from governments whose primary obligation is to secure their wellbeing and from some of their leaders who relish in continued 'shackling' of their communities. As long as the communities remain ignorant, they guarantee the political survival of their leaders.

Certainly, there are many positive and commendable initiatives being undertaken by governments and a host of stakeholders - private and public. However, considering how inconsistent some of the interventions are and looking at the cross-section of beneficiaries of cattle rustling, one wonders whose hands are still sufficiently clean in this 'game.'

The governments of Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda would do well by ratifying, domesticating and fully implementing the Protocol on the Prevention, Combating and Eradication of Cattle Rustling. Benefits accrued by this Protocol would to a large extent address most of the issues affecting pastoralist communities and thus have the governments' hands really clean.

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