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Politicians among cattle warlords fuelling raids

By - | November 17th 2012

By Standard on Saturday Team

Several prominent politicians and businessmen have been linked to a two decade long wave of cattle rustling that has claimed thousands of lives.

The cattle warlords, mostly from pastoralist communities, either support or benefit from large-scale livestock theft operations.

They work hand-in-hand with rogue security officers and Government officials to run or facilitate a multi-billion shilling trade in stolen and confiscated animals.

Investigations by The Standard on Saturday corroborate the 2010 findings of a Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC) team that called for investigations into the role State officials and local politicians play in cattle rustling.

Some of the cattle warlords command armies of heavily armed youth whose job is to steal animals or kill people, provoking the Government to order disarmament raids. Their activities in the lawless districts of northern Kenya have been described by aid agencies as “a low-level war that never ends”.

While most of this war’s victims have been residents of the Samburu, Turkana, Pokot, Trans-Nzoia, Marakwet, Isiolo and Marsabit regions, their number also includes some Government officials and security personnel.

Many of their attacks pit warriors from one community against those from another. Other livestock thefts, however, allegedly involve security officers deployed on disarmament raids. Warlords have also been known to organise joint cattle raiding operations, involving thousands of Turkana and Pokot warriors, into Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia. There are now fears they are also using foreign fighters from some of these countries in raids in Kenya.

This week, a Government officer inWest Pokot told The Standard on Saturday of an influential businessman who allegedly smuggles ammunition from Uganda with the help of security officials from that country.

“I know one businessman in Kapenguria who has become rich overnight from the proceeds of cattle raids,” said the officer, who declined to be named. He claims the businessman has recruited a gang that organises raids for cattle that are later transported to ready markets in Nairobi. Most of the stolen cattle are hidden in various forests before they are transported. The most notorious of these is the expansive Kabolet forest.

Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere this week hinted at the high-level connections the bandits have when he said he believed details of the botched security operation in Baragoi must have been leaked to them. When interviewed on the topic by a local NGO a while back, Samburu West MP Simeon Lesirma fingered Government officers among the warlords.

“People hire young people, supply them with guns, collect animals and sell them,” the Assistant Minister in the Internal Security and Provincial Administration ministry was quoted as saying. “There may also be public servants involved...pictures have been taken discreetly and given to the Provincial Administration, but no action has been taken... I would like to see security forces descend on (these groups)... and take away their guns.” The massacre of about four dozen police officers earlier this week — the single worst disaster in Kenyan policing history — has thrust the role of livestock warlords and their accomplices back into the limelight.

“The warlords have become the final authority on cattle relations, overriding the traditional powers of community elders,” says conflict expert Joshia Osamba. “Available evidence shows that there are links between warlords and livestock traders from Kenya and neighbouring countries.”

Nachola Ward councillor Lawrence Lorunyei and four chiefs — Amojong Lothuru, Jeremiah Ekurao, Christopher Epul and Ewoi Losike — have been arrested and charged with robbery with violence. On Thursday, Internal Security Minister Katoo ole Metito says two other councillors, Paul Edapal and Sospeter Erupe, are being sought for questioning. Erupe is a former Inspector with the paramilitary General Service Unit. There are, however, a number of more prominent players with a hand in livestock theft cartels

“The Government should start by investigating allegations that some powerful State officials and businessmen are the key drivers of the perennial conflict,” the KHRC urged in its 2010 report on the problem. Titled ‘Moran No More: The Changing Face of Cattle Rustling In Kenya’, it documented the growing militarisation of livestock theft and the role local politics plays in the crimes.

“The system of cattle warlordism has gained prominence over the years for various reasons,” KHRC officials say. “First, there are high numbers of destitute, uneducated youth who are desperate to eke a living by any means necessary. Second is the Government’s failure or unwillingness to curb the spread of warlordism through its security systems.”

KHCR urged investigations into claims that politicians from arid and semi-arid regions often arm their constituents as part of a strategy to gain votes. The involvement of political players has been blamed for the lack of political will to pass laws or take other steps to end livestock-related violence.

“There has been no effective intervention by the State to curb (cattle-rustling),” KHCR researchers observed. “Heavily armed vigilantes, criminal gangs and bandits have emerged to fill the vacuum left by deficient or non-existent State security system.”

The cattle warlords work hand-inhand with rogue security officers and Government officials to run or facilitate a multi-billion shilling trade in stolen or confiscated animals. “These interests are often involved in the confiscation of livestock under the pretext of fighting cattle-rustling only to channel it to markets in Nairobi, Nanyuki, Nyeri, Isiolo, Meru and Gilgil among other towns,” the NGO’s researchers said.

“Respondents told KHRC that sometimes security agents are complicit in selling stolen or confiscated livestock. Following a Government operation (in February 2009) to recover stolen livestock, 4,115 head of cattle were taken from the Samburu and sold off. So brazen was this act of officially sanctioned theft that respondents allege that they witnessed their livestock being exchanged for Sh1,000 per head at Isiolo.”

Security personnel at Kina and Kora were among those accused of selling confiscated livestock. KHCR also found evidence to suggest security personnel sometimes hold confiscated livestock in national parks and game reserves. They then arrange transport and sell the animals to the Kenya Meat Commission in Mombasa, the Dagoretti slaughterhouse or a private abattoir in Rumuruti.


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