Use pastoralists' warfare tactics to defeat bandits

Armed herders at a watering point in Lokichogio, Turkana County, February 2021. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

In the last few weeks, attacks by bandits on both civilians and police officers have been on the increase in the North Rift.

These gun-wielding cattle rustlers have shown open defiance to the government. Social media is awash with memes making satirical statements about the Interior Cabinet Secretary's ability to deter these bandits.

There is a history behind the problem of cattle rustling and it might explain why it might linger for some time to come. Here, I would recommend to readers a recent book by Prof Gufu Oba, titled Herder warfare in East Africa: A social and spatial history.

As discussed in the book, social anthropologists and historians have studied the behaviour of pastoralist communities’ violence for a long time.

In the last few weeks, more than 100 people were killed by marauding bandits within the Kerio Valley and Kapedo along the Baringo and Turkana border. The government has now decided to use a high-handed approach to eradicate the banditry.

Last week, the Cabinet Secretary of Defence gazetted the deployment of Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) officers to the six affected counties in the North Rift. While the government's determination is commendable, I have a feeling the impact of these interventions might have short-term effects.

By the time KDF deployment is done, many of the illegal firearms would have been stowed away in the bushes or the morans may sneaked through the porous borders to hide the weapons in the neighbouring countries.

The government needs to understand the root causes of these conflicts and undertake a careful analysis of possible responses before taking hasty decisions. In the past, the use of violence by security officers led to human rights violations against poor nomads as explained by Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya recently.

Whenever the government decides to deploy the military, it applies its monopoly of violence to intimidate the targeted community. Before any operations are started the security forces need to place themselves into the mindset of the tradition of pastoralists’ warfare. There are cultural and psycho-spiritual dimensions that encourage or make it possible for warriors of pastoralist communities to consider attacking their neighbours.

Beyond understanding the causes of conflict and why pastoralists have decided to arm themselves and attack their neighbours, policymakers need to study very closely the psychology, evolution, and historical context under which the pastoralists continue engaging in conflict.

-Mr Guleid is coordinator, North East Development Initiative