Nairobi, Kenya: It’s no longer a matter of cattle rustling, because there were no cattle on the school bus. It’s clear that this is a criminal organisation that is disguised as cattle rustlers. We are going to apply a new level of force and fire to end the menace in Kerio Valley
Once considered a cultural practice that was sanctioned and controlled by the elders, cattle rustling and banditry is currently becoming a major internal security concern across Africa.
The crime has grown both in scale and violence, facilitated by increasing proliferation of small arms and embedded in the wider business of the cattle trade.
It has left people dead, deprived local communities of their livelihood, increased poverty and displaced thousands.
Incidences are rampant in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Madagascar, Cameroon and South Sudan, among others.
Recently eight people, among them two primary school students, were killed, and several others injured following a bandit attack in northwestern Kenya.
Herders from Loiwat area in Baringo county were attacked as they grazed near the Marakwet east sub-county, by bandits from another community, who escaped with more than 1,000 livestock.
According to local residents, drought has worsened the attacks because herders have to move near or even cross to neighbouring communities’ land in search of water and pasture.
Mohammed Maalim, the Rift Valley regional commissioner, assured local communities of their security and said police patrols will be increased in the area.
He added that peace meetings will be organised among the neighbouring communities to resolve the conflict.
The incidence occurred barely a week after bandits attacked a school bus in Elgeyo Marakwet county on February 18, killing the driver and injuring 15 students and two teachers. The bus was returning from an educational trip when the attack took place.
Fred Matiangi, the cabinet secretary for interior and coordination of national government, said the bandits of Kerio Valley will be met with a new level of force and fire as soon as the National Security Council approves the naming of Pokot warriors as an outlawed terrorist group.
“It’s no longer a matter of cattle rustling, because there were no cattle on the school bus. It’s clear that this is a criminal organisation that is disguised as cattle rustlers. We are going to apply a new level of force and fire to end the menace in Kerio Valley,” he said.
Several schools have been closed in the affected counties following the bandit attacks even as class eight and form four students are set to take their national exams next week.
In Nigeria, cattle rustling is not only on the rise but it’s increasingly being linked to Boko Haram group, as a source of income.
In a motion to parliament last week, Kabir Tukura, a member of the House of Representatives of Kebbi state, said hundreds of bandits passed through Waje, Sabon-Layi, Zuttu and Kangon Wasagu, where they killed several people and escaped with more than 1,000 cows, Vanguard reported.
The motion was adopted, after which the House of Representatives urged President Muhammadu Buhari to deploy all the law enforcement agencies as well as the newly acquired super Tucano fighter jets to bombard the suspected camps of terrorists.
In Uganda, the government has implemented new measures to tackle cattle rustling following increased incidences in the northern part of the country, especially in Agago district and parts of Teso sub-region.
The strategies include re-organisation of the Anti-Stock Theft Unit and the introduction of the Kraal protection local personnel.
While making the presentation before parliament on Feb 8, David Muhoozi, the minister of state for internal affairs, said they will work with the Internal Security Organisation to recruit low cadre Internal Security Organisation staff from the villages, who will help when it comes to early warning.
According to Enact Africa, a research organisation, traditionally cattle rustling was an accepted cultural practice, especially in east Africa, to acquire livestock to replenish decimated herds after periods of drought.
It was also used as a process through which young men popularly known as warriors exhibited bravery that was key to defending community property, specifically livestock and territory.
Raiding was also the only means through which livestock was acquired for the payment of dowries.
However, use of automatic weapons such as AK-47s saw the cultural practice of cattle raiding evolve into cattle rustling, a violent organised criminal enterprise aimed at acquiring cattle for commercial gain.
By Edith Mutethya