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ANALYSIS: East Africa’s cattle warlords

In Kenya’s West Pokot and Elgeyo-Marakwet counties, 30 people were killed during the first five months of 2019. This followed what the authorities called conflict – but what was in fact cattle rustling carried out as a criminal enterprise.

In Uganda, authorities recovered 400 head of cattle stolen by Turkana rustlers from Kenya responsible for increased cattle rustling at the end of 2019.  In South Sudan, 42 people were killed and 78 wounded in Bieh State after armed Murle tribesmen attacked cattle keepers, stealing more than 100 head of cattle at the beginning of 2019. In December 2019, gunmen stole 400 cattle and killed 11 herdsmen and wounded seven others in Jonglei State.

Interestingly, the researchers say, the countries affected by cattle rustling in East Africa have not been able to commit to a common framework that would facilitate the fight against the practice. The closest they came to forging a common response was the adoption, 20 years ago, of the Eastern Africa Police Chiefs Cooperation Organization (EAPCCO) Cattle Rustling Protocol or the Mifugo Protocol.

The member states of the EAPCCO—Burundi, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Seychelles, Tanzania and Uganda tried to forge a common front when they realized that cattle rustling had metamorphosed into a violent practice and was spreading, as neighbouring communities raided each other across borders.

Eight years later, in 2008, they signed the EAPCCO Protocol on the Prevention, Combating and Eradication of Cattle Rustling in Eastern Africa. Articles 6 and 7 require member states to harmonize their laws on cattle rustling as well as to adopt livestock identification systems and records.

It also aims to improve the capacity of police, guards, customs, border communities, the judiciary, and local leaders and relevant agencies to conduct joint operations as well as provide mutual legal assistance. The states are also supposed to cooperate in law enforcement, with the involvement of civil society. However, the protocol is yet to be enforced.

Effective solutions

The ENACT study predictably notes that responses to the problem by eastern African countries have so far been ineffective. It says states in the region have for years responded to cattle rustling through inaction, indiscriminate force or ineffective disarmament initiatives.

Even when in July, 2018, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) proposed a regional instrument, known as the IGAD Protocol on Transhumance that it hoped would allow free movement of pastoralists and stamp out cattle rustling in the region, the regional body has failed to ensure that Kenya, South Sudan and Ethiopia disarm pastoralists. Experts say this has to be the first crucial step towards making the protocol work.

David Pulkol, an elder from Karamoja told The Independent on March 02 that he agreed with the researchers. Pointing to the recent spate of insecurity in Karamoja, he said there is a new wave of criminal gangs who are profiteering and racketeering from cattle raiding.

“What is happening is that these criminal gangs are now multi-ethnic operating at a higher level,” Pulkol said.   “What unites them is the economic incentive; the need to racketeer; they get the cows; they hide them somewhere and load them onto trucks.”

“What is happening has more to do with cattle cartels in the communities; it is not about the Jie attacking the Matheniko or the Jie attacking the Dodoth or the Jie attacking the Turkana,” Pulkol who recently lost his brother to a cattle rustling related incident told The Independent.

Going forward, the ENACT study advises governments in the region to re-examine their response to the age-old challenge of cattle rustling, which undermines human security and development.

“Although most interventions by governments have focused on disarming pastoral communities and promoting peace initiatives, these initiatives may not have a sustainable solution to the problem,” says the report.

“The design and implementation of policies should be guided by informed research rather than by politics; this will ensure that programmes take into consideration the expectations and aspirations of target communities.”

Pulkol told The Independent that if the governments in the region are to succeed in defeating this new wave of criminality, they will have to stop ethnicizing or tribalizing the problem and instead court allies from the communities, markets and bodabodas.


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