News 2008


Cattle Rustlers Give Deaf Ear to Intense Political Activities

The Nation (Nairobi)

7 March 2008

Oscar King'ori


As millions of Kenyans went to the ballot on December 27 last year, heavily armed cattle rustlers went on the rampage in the larger Meru and Isiolo districts, stealing hundreds of livestock left under the care of herds boys. Voting was not in their agenda for the day.

Isiolo is one of the places hit often by cattle rustlers.

Not even a contingent of security officers, including the dreaded General Service Unit (GSU) and the Anti-Stock Theft Unit, who were called to track down the raiders, could match their fire power in the shoot-out that ensued.

At one point, Mutuati district officer Philip Kang'ethe had to call off an operation to track down about 14 bandits after his team of 30 officers were overwhelmed by the raiders near Shaba game reserve in Isiolo District on January 1.

The raiders, all armed with high calibre rifles, drove away 100 head of cattle belonging to Mr Peter Mwikia from his Sharb sub-location home in Tigania District.

Rugged terrain

"We could see the animals being driven away by the raiders, but it could have been suicidal to go near them. Besides, the raiders had the advantage of shooting from rugged terrain which, they knew better than the officers," said Mr Kang'ethe.

Efforts to get further reinforcements proved difficult as the majority of officers were providing security in polling stations.

The animals were taken to the treacherous thickets and hills of Samburu District in the Rift Valley through Archer's Post township, but when contacted for help, Samburu East DO Isaac Salad advised that only a helicopter could be used to track down the raiders.

It is in this district that a district commissioner, Mr Joseph Nyandoro, was killed alongside other members of the local security committee when their helicopter was brought down by cattle rustlers a few years ago.

The cattle thieves took the animals through Laresoro Army training ground before heading to Samburu's West Gate area.

The police officers returned home empty handed. Other raids have recently taken place at Kashuru grazing area of Tigania, Daaba and Gotu areas of Isiolo District and Maili Tatu and Nkando areas of Meru North District.

In some cases, the raiders took herders hostage for several kilometres towards Samburu, before tying them to trees and abandoning them in the bushes.

Steal animals

Others who have lost their animals through the raids are the chairman of peace and conflict resolutions in Meru North, Mr Charles Kamwibua, whose 150 head of cattle were stolen near Isiolo Town and the chairman of Isiolo butchers association, Mr Salesio Kiambi.

There are also petty thieves who steal animals at the Livestock Marketing Division (LMD) area near Isiolo Town before selling them to butchers in Isiolo and Meru towns.

Going by the Meru North District Peace and Conflict Resolution records, 954 head of cattle worth Sh19 million have been stolen from three Meru districts by the raiders suspected to be from Samburu District in the past one and half months alone.

Mr Kamwibua said the livestock thieves seem to have prior information before striking as hardly a handful of animals are ever recovered.

Isiolo District has, according to the same records, lost 1,500 sheep and goats worth Sh6 million in the same period, while about 150 head of cattle and 47 donkeys were also lost to the raiders.

Most of the goats belonged to Somali herders, while a few belonged to Ameru and Turkanas.

In an effort to address the cattle theft menace, a peace meeting comprising leaders, herders and district officers from the affected divisions was held at Archer's Post in Samburu District towards the end of January.

However, the meeting ended in disarray as DOs from Eastern Province claimed Mr Salad had refused to cooperate with them.

The Government officers referred to the Garissa-Modogashe declaration document, which stipulated measures that should be taken to arrest cattle rustling in Upper Eastern, North Eastern and North Rift regions. But the host DO reminded them that the document was not legally binding.

Mr Salad claimed that raiders had taken advantage of the General Election period but police reports from the affected districts indicate that cattle rustling was still going on, a month and half since the elections.

The Garissa-Modogashe declaration was made in May 2005 by the Eastern, North Eastern and Rift Valley provincial commissioners and was aimed at containing insecurity in pastoral regions.

The Government thereafter resorted to traditional approach to peace building.

The document states that the community found to have stolen livestock would be forced to repay double the number stolen.

And for every adult male killed during raids, or any other conflict, the offending community had to pay 100 head of cattle and 50 for a female or a child.

The approach was said to work among the Borana, Degodia, Rendille and the Gabra, and it appeared there was no reason it should not work in nearly all cases involving the Samburus as well.

The Samburus dismissed the document with an elder saying during the Archer's Post meeting that "we never kill women and children during the raids, and therefore the document is null and void".

Community policing has proved ineffective in containing cattle thefts.

Despite the failure of the meeting, the DOs vowed to conduct frequent inter-peace meetings to strengthen security structures at the grassroots level.

They urged the Government to help resolve the cases since cattle rustlers were well coordinated and seemed to work from a central command centre.

Notorious raider

Isiolo head of police Crispin Makhanu said officers directly under his command were spending sleepless nights as they were called every now and then to help track cattle rustlers.

"Several animals have been recovered even though we need a lot of cooperation from our Rift Valley neighbours," he said.

At least one notorious raider, said Mr Kang'ethe, had been shot dead near Kashuru area in a recent raid.

"No one has come to collect the body despite our pleas to local herders," he said.

The cattle raids are attracting the attention of non-governmental organisations, which have started sponsoring elders from all the affected communities to attend peace meetings.

Among them is Safer World International, which is already active on the ground.

The organisation's programme coordinator, Ms Jacqueline Mbogo, said the programme was bearing fruit and hoped to bring all the concerned parties to an agreement soon.

"We could see the animals being driven away by the raiders, but it could have been suicidal to go near them," she said.