Five ways to end cattle rustling menace in northern Rift Valley

An armed man in the cattle rustling prone Kapau area of Tiaty, Baringo County, November 2017. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

In the West, if you attack, injure, or kill a police officer you attract the wrath of the whole country and all law enforcement agencies.

They take it as an attack against the heart and fabric of the Nation and they will not rest until they bring the culprit(s) to book or to an early grave, if there is violent resistance. They respect and value the lives of their police officers.

Killing a police officer who is on duty is like killing a pastor at the altar. Or a teacher in class. There is no benefit that can be derived from harming such innocent citizens who are only executing their solemn duty and functions, as mandated by the constitution and other relevant laws.

The young officers killed in Turkana East on Saturday, September 24, died while dispensing their cardinal duty of protecting life and property as well as maintaining peace and order. That's what they are employed to do, and their work is sanctified both by human beings and by God.

Outdated practice

Cattle rustling has been tolerated for far too long in Kenya. It is an outdated practice that should have been discarded a long time ago. Is it lack political goodwill or it’s just another bloody, informal industry that benefits a certain clique of people? I'll not attempt to answer such questions as I believe that the authorities have the means to acquire all the security intelligence needed to understand this matter.

President William Ruto's social media pronouncement that "cattle rustling itaisha na sio tafadhali" (cattle rustling must end), is highly welcome, but it will take much more than such declarations to tackle this menace.

In my tour of duty, I have been to Tiaty and some parts of Turkana and West Pokot where cattle rustling is rampant. These areas are arid and semi-arid, with minimal agrarian activities going on, except in Pokot central where an irrigation project is now thriving, with a huge positive impact on the lives of the locals there. Of course, there is also not much in terms of other economic activities that can be relied upon as a sustainable source of livelihood.

With all other economic activities out of the question, these people are only left with animal husbandry as their only source of livelihood, with the most common animals reared being the indigenous African cattle.

Cattle a sign of wealth

Most locals in these places do not know any other life apart from the one facilitated by cattle rearing. A wealthy person is the one with the highest number of cattle, whether acquired through legal or illegal means.

An armed pastoralist herding goats at Katilu area in Turkana South. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

It is well known that to get a wife in these areas, you must pay a hefty dowry in form of cattle, the lack of which can condemn to the purgatory of involuntary bachelorhood. Young men who cannot afford to acquire cattle through legal means are forced into cattle rustling to survive and extend their bloodline. Living-off cattle rustling is also an honourable thing there and those who have mastered the art are celebrated as heroes.

There is also a shortage of role models in these areas who can influence the locals positively, as their educated and enlightened folks migrate to nearby towns like Nakuru, Kitale and Eldoret, as soon as they are able to, in search of civilization and safe spaces to raise their families, as well as escape the harsh realities of home.

Considering this, to solve this menace once and for all, the Government needs to:

1. Introduce alternative sources of livelihood. The irrigation project in central Pokot has demonstrated the agricultural potential of these areas if water for irrigation is harnessed and made readily available for farming.

2. Open these areas by developing transport infrastructure. This will make the areas accessible and bring the much-needed civilization closer to the locals.

3. Provide incentives to ensure that modern education is embraced fully in these areas. Education will enable them to gain formal employment and broaden their options for alternative sources of livelihood.

4. Involve opinion leaders and well-informed people from these areas to enlighten their people on the merits of discarding such age-old practices like cattle rustling and demonstrate to them the benefits of modern-day living.

5. Facilitate the security agencies with modern law enforcement tools which can be safely employed in flushing cattle rustlers from their hideouts and bring them to justice.

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