Readers' Forum

26 September 1999

Central Africa: Cattle Rustling In The Great Lakes Region

About the author: Dr. S. Chemonges — Kasumbein is a Ugandan born Companion Animal Surgeon. He has extensive research experience on animal related issues. He can be reached on: The New Vision Editorial "The Need For Guns" of August 13th 1999, brought to the attention of Ugandans the genocide the people of Karamoja have committed to their neighbours.

In Uganda, the Sabiny people of Kapchorwa are the most affected and are nearing extinction. Aren't the Sabiny people not citizens of Uganda? Can the rule of law be extended to this part of Uganda to curtail atrocities caused by the Karamojong to their neighbours? I hope we shall come up with useful and applicable solutions through Inter- Governmental Authority On Development (IGAD) as suggested by the editorial. Does everyone understand Cattle rustling and related evils? Let us examine the crux of the matter.

Historical perspective of role players. In the past, when people talked about cattle rustling, it looked as though it was something one had to be proud of, because it supposedly built stamina and strength in the raiding community. Those who believe in raiding get vindicated after a successful attempt.

Today, cattle rustling in the great lakes region (Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda) has not changed much, at least according to known history, though the modification in methods of attack and probably newer players in the field, have lead to increased loss of human lives and property.

Rustling has some history. To some extent, documentaries have tended to associate cattle rustling with the Nilotic communities in the great lakes region. The Nilotic speakers are mainly pastoralists and most communities that fall in this category practise both crop farming and animal husbandry. The name nilotics is associated with River Nile, where some live and others are thought to have come from. The nilotes are mainly in three groups; the Highland, or Southern Nilotes, the River-Lake, or Western Nilotes, and the Plains or Eastern Nilotes.

It is believed that the Nilotes arrived in Kenya about 2000 years ago and entered Kenya from somewhere near the edge of Southern Ethiopian Highlands perhaps around the region North of L. Turkana. They are also thought to have arrived from the direction of South East Sudan. The highland Nilotes have settled in the fertile Highland regions adjacent to the Rift Valley and several tribes fall under this group. The Highland Nilotes arrived in Kenya a long time prior to the Plains and the River Lake Nilotes. They receive the collective term Kalenjin. The Kalenjin were a result of intermingling and intermarriage between the newly arrived Highland Nilotes and the Southern Cushites. The Kalenjin Culture incorporates several Cushitic as well as Nilotic traits. Circumcision as a rite of passage from child hood to adult hood and a prohibition of fish eating are Cushitic traits, and the extraction of the lower incisors of adolescents and cattle husbandry are distinct Nilotic traits. The Kalenjin are related to the Tatoga of Tanzania and the former Kenya Kadam who were assimilated by the plain Nilotes in the first Millennium A.D.

The Lake (Western) Nilotes inhabited regions around the Lake Victoria region, generally known as the Luo.

The Plain (Eastern) Nilotes have two linguistic branches, the Bari dialects that inhabited the Southern Sudan and Northern Uganda; the other is the Teso- Maasian peoples who differentiated into Karamojong-Teso group. The differentiation lead into the emergence of several distinctive groups; Karamajong, the Jie and the Turkana and the Iteso.

Todays' complexity of rustling. Cattle have all along been seen as symbols of wealth and respect. Indeed it is a source of valuable food; meat, milk and blood. There have been conflicting reports and false claims on what ethnic group of people should be regarded as the 'cattle keepers'. To be regarded as a 'cattle keeper' is a contentious issue in Uganda, even if answers are well, available in history. It is known that in the past, especially in Uganda, being called a cattle keeper was tantamount to an insult, as opposed to being called a crop farmer or land tiller so to speak. Today, the story is the reverse, it is fashionable to be regarded as having evolved from a cattle keeping community. Some ethnic groups on the other hand, for example the Karamojong of Uganda, assume cattle that do not have upper teeth, belong to their fore fathers, so they (the Karamojong), are the legitimate owners of all cattle under this category. The result from this definition is that all cattle species actually belong to the Karamojong! Then the Hima of western Uganda proclaim that the long horned nsanga cattle are theirs. Similar claims with slight variations exist in other nilotic communities of Kenya and Uganda.

Certain communities today, still solely depend directly on cattle products. The Karamojong of Uganda, and Turkana of Kenya for instance, have preference for blood and milk, than meat. The Hima of Uganda use milk and milk products predominantly to supplement millet bread at meals. On the other hand, the mountain Nilotes such as the Sapiny of Eastern Uganda and the Kony of Western Kenya benefit indirectly from cattle by using oxen to till land for crop production. From the form of animal usage, there seem to be a close relationship between direct dependency on cattle products (milk, blood and meat) and the tendency to rustle or raid as opposed to secondary dependency (use of oxen).

The role of insecurity and conflict: Who are the new players in cattle rustling? In many communities, stressors and more particularly shock associated with political insecurity and conflict may lead to both unavailability and decline in entitlement of property especially for pastoralist communities. Fluctuation in income and other livelihood sources are more severe for the poor and the vulnerable since they do not have sufficient assets (including entitlements like participatory governance), to guard against the threat of destitution.

The role of insecurity and conflict in this aspect of impoverishment has until recently, been very much neglected. On the other hand, insecurity and conflict influence what happens to the people in these places, by creating a highly uncertain and disabling structure within which to make resource amendment and other decisions. On the other hand, are emergent literature on the personal dimensions of conflict. In the recent past, there seem to be evidence from several reports of the press that non-nilotic groups especially the Bantu with the advent of sophistacation of weaponry and modernization of rustling are the new players in the field of cattle rustling. The linkages may appear known, but in my view are poorly understood, yet fundamental in seeking possible solutions for this century long catastrophe. This calls for extensive research in this area.

Like in the study of Leach and Means (Poverty and environment in developing countries), the varied consequences of war for human life, health and environment; insecurity associated with current or impending warfare, cross border conflict, which deters people and governments induced by conflict, which often creates unexpected large demands on resources in the receiving areas. Cross boarder cattle raids as a means of head restocking following drought related losses, has long gone between the Turkana and the Karamojong pastoralists in Kenya and Uganda respectively. This invariably has escalated into armed conflict as a result by gun-running across several international boarders in the region. In Uganda for example, the active role of national politicians in cattle rustling is an ongoing controversy as reported by Mearns. The targeting of natural resources in war as a weapon against people of Teso, for instance proved very successful.

Several reports in local press (Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania) in the past decade, have attempted to suggest that newer communities are involved in the cattle raiding at different levels. In the olden days, cattle rustling was something done stealthily, usually in the night with the use of basic weapons as spears, machetes (pangas) and stones. But with the advent of the gun, the trend has tended to be a little sophisticated with resultant massive human casualties. These days, rustlers strike at any time of the day. Much as the rustled cattle were meant for traditional rituals and fame, these days they are quickly converted into cash. The availability of road transport next to raiding fields has hastened the speed at which this is done. It has been asserted that, cattle are quickly loaded on trucks so that it is difficult to trek them on foot. There is further evidence to suggest that, even when the cattle are trekked, hardly are they found, suggesting that there are alternative destinations, unlike the traditionally known ones. In fact it has been said cattle have been seen on transit across communities that are not affected by rustling to "cattle loving destinations". This is a strong point supporting the argument that there seem to be new players aided by modernisation of rustling. From the eighties to date, trends of rustling have changed a great deal and these changes are largely or at least in part due to government participation.

Is cattle rustling clearly understood? There are key concepts that need to be understood when considering the complex problem of cattle rustling: Does poverty or the environment play a role? Is vulnerability an ethnic relevant dimension of poverty and do people have the capacity to cope generalised slurs to be associated with rustling? Of what role is ownership, production or membership of a particular ethnic, social or economic group play? Are there strategies for dealing with shocks and stressors, whether socio-economic or otherwise? What are the long term implications to peoples health, education and personal development?

How can central governments annul the cattle rustling nightmare? Although the causes of cattle rustling seem obvious, it has, at least up to today proven difficult to contain. Perhaps there is need for further understanding. As an outcome, certain arguments do arise, for instance people who find themselves victims or unwilling agents of the rustling circumstance, seem to be unwilling to change attitude. But is there justification for change? There are strong links between poverty, access to sophistication in weaponry and the tendency to raid, this probably justifies why rustling is becoming a lot easier to accomplish.

Individuals, household or village, access to labour, social relations, including gender, capital endowments and technology, appear to have a relationship with the spatial distribution of the rustling setback. One may suggest that sub-national, national or global level, decisions on incentives technologies institutions and regulations tend to favour some social groups and some geographical areas seem to play a major role in this respect than others. For instance donor and development agency approaches to poverty alleviation and environment; agricultural research governance and political conflict seem not to make use of existing problems to develop strategies to solve them.

The current approaches to cub cattle rustling are insufficient on their own. To deal with imperatives of attitude change for the poor people, may imply a need for additional policy interventions to address particular problem in particular places.

Thoughts for potential solutions. The major thrust in policy strategies to reduce rustling and to ensure sustainable and productive neighbour management should be aimed at widening the range of choices available to the people concerned, not prescription from inexperienced legislators. The problems seem to be very specific and are subject to geographic and demographic distribution. An ideal guiding principle would be what could be done to avoid a certain cause, contrary to what should be done to stop the effect of the cause. For example arming communities involved in rustling as a measure of policing seem to be a primer of aggression that increases the potential animosity between the parties. To illustrate is, it is widely believed that the Karamojong of Uganda were armed by the National Resistance Movement to police their boader against the Turkana of Kenya, instead, the Karomojong terrorised the neighbouring districts Kapchorwa in particular and most recently, themselves.

The differences in the localities and the common nature of the problem to the concerned governments may mean involved governments must tailor strategies to take different, but uniform policies to curtail rustling. A useful topology for such policies could be to observe that the involved communities are already poor and live in ecologically vulnerable rural and urban ('poverty reserves'). A true distinction between resource-poor and resource-rich low potential areas(like Karamoja) and high potential' enhancement areas (like Mt. Elgon) and the resilience and sensitivity of the different environments, would be a guiding principle in developing a control strategy.

Approaches such as 'helicopter gunships' that emphasise pounding the raiding group, are very inferior compared to the use of management decisions of the local communities, community policing that tend to offer promising complementariness between familiarity with the so called enemy, yet sustainable and cost effective, need to be employed. Indeed intervention by the military has only led to much blood shed compared to what the locals do to protect themselves.

Object oriented solutions emphasising problem solving may well be investigated and employed. In other words research in this area is worth undertaking. For instance it is known that cattle rustling is associated with shortage of water and grass. This leads to movement of stock and may well be difficult to police activities that are due to occur along side animal movement. There is a tendency to 'conquer and occupy' lush territories during the search for water and lush grass. Some problems seem to have immediate solutions, but ways of application are remote. For instance the plain communities can benefit from the highland terrain by exploiting the natural topography of the highland areas by damming the massive gouges of river valleys. A practical example can be that of Mount Elgon region and the plains adjacent to the Mountain. There have been cattle raids and counter raids between communities in those regions. Mount Elgon Highland region receives high density rainfall during certain seasons of the year. Large amounts of water gets wasted as run-off into the low lying swamps and finally drains into L. Kyoga, L.Victoria, and L. Turkana. There are several areas with deep valleys that could easily be dammed to provide huge water reservoirs for the plains. The benefits from such a thought would be enormous. First of all, there would be a sure source of water for the lower lying plains, secondly animals will thrive, there may be a possibility of power generation (not really crucial, but good, talking politically for donor funding). The water from the reservoirs could be channelled to long distances, without significant losses. The resulting reservoirs could be make excellent fish farms- a resource lacking in the high altitude areas like Kapchorwa District in Uganda and an unchallengeable source of animal protein. This would as well be an alternative to keeping the most stalked animal 'the cow'. Dam construction may take the use of simple materials, not the mania of thinking of expensive foreign projects and machinery (these could be required, but minimally).

The factor that seem to provoke and promote cattle raiding apparently is numbers and probably the ability of the local stock to walk long distances. Avenues should be explored that emphasise on husbandry of large sized animals, yet both resistance to environmental constraints, diseases and those that walk long distances. This could possibly discourage raiders. In fact the small East African Zebu (EAZ) tends to be a hardy animal and walks long distances without water or food, no wonder it is the ultimate target for rustlers! The EAZ has been known to gallop for long hours without tiring, neither drinking nor eating, this probably explains why they are a target for rustling. Some communities actually claim that such animals were God given to a particular ethnic group, not the other, and those groups have the right to own such animals under all odds, usually by rustling.

Issues to be investigated that may well lead to cattle deprivation and loss of human life are four fold; the component dimensions of geographical entitlements, their relative importance under different conditions for different groups of poor people and appropriate ways of taking them into account in development interventions that aim to reduce poverty and or ensure sustainable co-existance within the hostile communities.

Economic analysis of the incentives for poor people to manage personal resources sustainable, given the natural disasters that tend to deprive parties of property. For instance people should be encouraged to breed animals rather than consume the would be parents of cows of the next generation.

There is need investigate implications of possible investments in poverty reduction strategies and to examine the 'effectiveness', practicality and appropriate forms of policy targeting to 'animal reserves'; Investigate viable alternatives for the already highly competitive, yet less productive livestock.

Investigation of the ways in which political change, instability and conflict affect communities and their behaviour or attitude vis a vis cattle rustling, laying emphaisis for set alternatives.

There is need in forming operational planning approaches such as 'sustainable livestock' production through analytical debates around state versus civil society institutions and institutional innovation which is crucial at this stage. Governments should have a multidisplinary approach towards handling the problem of cattle rustling, not only by use of security personnel. For instance Animal Industry ministries in the various governments would have problem solving workshops geared towards establishing lasting solutions for animal production. Health ministry, community development and Social service sectors would develop the of attitude change. As a result, defence would just be there as a watch dog, since experience has shown that it can't work independently.

It is thus not worthwhile to point fingers at each other as being responsible for cattle rustling without understanding the ramifications that it has in the community. There is urgent need for the Government concerned and the affected communities to have a detailed study and come out with proposals that are feasible other than exterminating the culprits of rustling.


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