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Lifting the veil on cattle rustling

By Kipkoech Tanui | February 24th 2017

The seemingly endless fights between members of the Tugen and Pokot communities are back in the news. Blood is dripping along the border line between Baringo South (Tugen and Ilchamus live here) and Tiaty, which is the only Pokot-dominated constituency outside West Pokot County. Schools have closed. Mothers, children and the old have fled their homes.

Darkness portends death, for that is when the enemy strikes. One community has guns; the other has arrows and spears. A teacher has been shot dead while walking home with his pupils.

In the dead of night, hooded men riding on a motorcycle casually walk into a roadside pub and gun down a Member of County Assembly and an aspirant for the Tiaty Constituency seat, now in the hands of Mr Asman Kamama. They burn down the cars of the two victims and casually leave.

Apart from the local government administration, county officials and elected leaders, the silence high up is too loud. Well, they say Deputy President William Ruto will tour the area today. What he will say is predictable; he will order the surrender of arms.

He will warn jail awaits those behind the killings. He will promise thorough investigations. He will call on leaders to lead in peace efforts. He will condemn cattle rustling as the stock exchange of illiterates. Then he will leave, and the cycle goes on!

This cycle of killings in pastoralist areas like Turkana, Samburu, West Pokot border with Uganda, Marsabit and North Eastern Province has never gone away. Even the previous governments faced the same frustration of warning after warning and one round of disarmament after another, with no success.

There are four main triggers of these cases of violence. Cattle thefts are a growing enterprise. Uneducated and unemployed youths have found a new source of income and for dowry payment. Consider this; a thousand cattle can fetch Sh10 million easily if sold at Sh10,000 each. But this isn’t even the average price of a cow; it could be four or five times more. We are just assuming that they sell in a hurry and under the cover of darkness.

What this means is that there is a ready market and that cattle rustling is no longer a localised security issue but a network that runs between the hills of Baringo and our cities’ abattoirs. It also means that the network is an economic lifeline for some well-connected people.

In case you forgot, that goon who was allowed to walk around arresting and intimidating people while dressed in senior police uniform and medallions was said to have been the linchpin for this underworld business. His friend was the provincial police boss.

The second trigger of this menace came from the lips of Kamama (who is Pokot) when he claimed that Tugen were responsible for the killing of Pokot leaders ostensibly in revenge. He said so knowing that this would deflect attention from speculation that this was political execution involving a man who was to run against him.

Well, he pleaded innocent, but I am sure he knew the consequence of pointing fingers at the Tugen. It was a scaremongering tactic to ‘unite’ the Pokot against the Tugen, and to trigger hate and hostilities away from the political issues in his backyard, leading to tit-for-tat killings!

The third dimension to this menace is the grinding poverty, unemployment and low literacy levels in this ‘tuko katika serikali’ (we’re in government) forgotten corner of Kenya. There are three simple ways to end this neglect and squalid life. Tightening security is one of them but it must be community-based because here, cattle-rustling is, culturally, a wise career move! Whatever we call it in newspapers and rallies does not matter; it is a self-help project and life choice for the backward poor.

This brings us to the second solution; providing water to communities where there are clashes over declining pasture and water, as well as limiting chances of one community trespassing into another’s land with their animals.

In fact, the reason the Pokot cattle rustlers are moving closer into Baringo hinterland is because of their love for traditional rather than high-yield yet vulnerable exotic animals. In Trans Nzoia, these raids were reduced when most farmers turned to Friesian and Ayrshire breeds.

Why? Because you can’t walk them for 100 kilometres; they will just collapse. So the more the water and pasture, the higher the number of pedigree cattle and the lesser the appeal for rustlers.

Thirdly, cut off the supply chain to high meat consumption markets and rustling will be a useless economic venture.

Then go for the political kingpins of these killings.

Surely, with the billions we pump into security teams, and with the capacity to even wage a long-term war inside Somalia, why should catching the culprits sound like atomic science?

We should not forget that at one point former President Moi had Francis Lotodo and three other leaders thrown in jail for ‘promoting war-like activities’. Those doing so now both on the Tugen and Pokot side must be dealt with firmly and decisively.

A government that does not do this should know the blood of the innocent children and parents killed by raiders drips from its well-manicured fingers!

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