Disinformation and myths about chaos in Laikipia

Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya and top security officers tour disturbed areas of Ol Moran in Laikipia West on September 7, 2021. [James Munyeki, Standard].

The inter-ethnic violence in Laikipia County has partly been blamed on the age-old practice of cattle rustling and historical land injustices.

In 2017, the International Crisis Group as well as a host of local organisations added politics into the mix.

Amidst the chaos that has occasioned senseless loss of lives and property, not to mention internal displacements, there have been half-truths, myths and disinformation about the conflict that if unchecked, threatens to scapegoat certain ethnicities, cultures and politicians.

First, is the half-truth that cattle raiding and rustling is to blame for the chaos in Laikipia. The problem in Laikipia and other conflict-prone areas are criminal acts of livestock thefts and not raiding or rustling. Raiding, in its traditional form, involved large-scale daylight attacks on a number of villages by hundreds of young men. Rustling involved smaller numbers of attackers and targets (including livestock) but like raiding, were controlled and sanctioned by elders. It had its own “war” rules that regulated it. Raiding and rustling are still practiced, in some forms, in the Sudans and parts of Sahel.

Two, are elders to blame for blessing bandits? As alluded to, they used to perform such functions. However, elders, including seers, have found new and lucrative customers in the form of politicians who are seeking their endorsements, blessings and occasionally bewitching their competitors. Today, we have more “political” than “traditional” elders in the villages.

Three, are the “bandits” better equipped than the security forces? Ndiritu Muriithi, the Laikipia governor, has dismissed this saying, “tell it to the birds”. Due to its versatility, maintenance, weight and availability of ammunition, AK-47 remains the weapon of choice for bandits.

Four, are the bandits more tactical than the elite units of our security agencies? Tell it to the birds. The so-called bandits have the wit and grit to fight for their livelihood and survival. On the other hand, the security personnel are responding to a job discrimination that might put their lives in danger. This is akin to what the US President Joe Biden termed the “will to fight” when he blamed the Afghan security forces for the catastrophic collapse at the slightest advance of the Taliban.

Five, are politicians, and to some extent traders, “sponsoring” livestock thefts to partake in the loot? Not really. Politicians are on it purely for political mileage; that will guarantee them election or re-election for “protecting the community”.

Perhaps what is needed in Laikipia and other frontier counties is massive investment in education, physical infrastructure to open up the region, round the clock security and adaption of their livelihoods to current realities. Provision of security will cumulatively render the illegal arms obsolete just like it happened in North Eastern before the advent of Al Shabaab. It is time to embrace modern livestock keeping like in Botswana where the average herd size per household is 35. The pastoralists should be retooled to produce for the markets and not the traditional badge of prestige and honour.

Mr Pkalya is a co-author of Conflict in Northern Kenya: A Focus on Internally Displaced Conflict Victims