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Change tack in efforts to tame cattle rustling

By Gerald Lepariyo | February 6th 2021

The political and social-economic development of a country relies greatly on its security. It is also the prerogative of the government to protect its citizens against internal and external threats, safeguarding sovereignty and promoting peaceful-coexistence.

Now cattle rustling among patoralist communities in the North Rift region has persisted for decades and poses a huge security challenge. The proliferation of illegal arms and light weapons being smuggled into the country fuel the conflict.

Historically, cattle rustling was viewed as a cultural practice where crude weapons such as bows, arrows, swords and rungus were used to carry out raids. Then, livestock was considered a measure of wealth, and cattle raids were conducted without necessarily killing people.

The recent killing of security officers in Kapedo, including a Rapid Deployment Unit (RDU) chief inspector and a senior GSU officer Emadau Tebakol when Ameiyan village was under siege from armed bandits, has exposed the insecurity in Baringo and Turkana counties. The systematic banditry attacks explain the inter-connected political and socio-economic trends in Kapedo which borders Baringo and Turkana counties.

The scramble for natural resources in Kapedo between the Pokot and Turkana communities fueled by disputed administrative boundaries, the commercialisation of cattle rustling and a growing market demand for stolen livestock have ensured no peace in the region.

There is also a lucrative trade in illegal arms such as AK-47 and G3 rifles. Today, there are organised raids coordinated by armed raiders, who appear well trained on military maneuvers. The sporadic attacks have subjected locals to social-economic deprivation.

Many villages remain deserted as locals flee and teachers’ unions threaten to withdraw all non-local teachers. Efforts by successive governments to flush out armed bandits and mop up illegal guns in Kapedo and other pastoralists areas have been unsuccessful. Even as a section of leaders mount pressure on government to restore order in Kapedo, they feel the responses to banditry have been “generally reactive”.

In 2014, President Uhuru Kenyatta accompanied by top security officials flew to Kapedo after 22 police officers were killed, barely two years after 42 other officers were ambushed and killed by armed bandits along Suguta Valley in Baragoi. The President warned of dire consequences against the masterminds of banditry.

Today, the government has intensified a crackdown on bandits and their sponsors. In 2010, the government conducted a joint disarmament operation comprising the Kenya Army, Kenya Police and Administration Police (AP) in Baringo and Turkana but the exercise didn’t achieve much because of political interference.

Therefore the government should re-design its strategy. First, the government should not succumb to any political pressure from leaders, who are already calling for a de-escalation of the security operation.

Intelligence plays a significant role in executing such an operation, especially when laying out a roadmap in planning, gathering information, analyse it and share with other security agencies on any possible threats. This will give the government a perspective on the nexus between cattle rustling and proliferation of illegal arms in Kapedo and other pastoral areas.

The government should narrow down the scope on drivers, markets and beneficiaries of cattle rustling and illegal arms trade. Further, the 2010 Constitution has outlined the importance of community land rights. However, pastoralist communities constitute a third of population in Kenya and occupy 80 percent of Kenya’s landmass, but their lands are yet to be officially demarcated. The government should demarcate all pastoralists land and draw clear administrative boundaries.

And considering the overlaps in our existing laws on cattle rustling related crimes, the government should come up with punitive legislations to curb such crimes. Strengthening devolution would also provide opportunities and transform pastoralists communities.  

-The writer is an IIchamus community youth leader.

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