A herder in Kenya tends to his cattle, Aug 2010
A herder in Kenya tends to his cattle, Aug 2010

Cattle rustling is a long-standing problem in Kenya. Pastoralist communities from Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia cross over into Kenya and battle Kenyan pastoralists, who also fight among themselves.  Northern Kenya is especially awash with guns, which increases the number and severity of attacks.  Months after the Kenyan government ended a disarmament program, local officials are stepping up efforts to collect more guns.

Cattle are a precious commodity in large areas of Kenya, and Turkana, Samburu, and other tribal herders often fight over them.  In the north, pastoralists from Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia regularly cross borders to raid Kenyan cattle.

Turkana pastoralist John Ewoton Ekaran said he has
Turkana pastoralist John Ewoton Ekaran said he has lost all of his brothers to armed raiders, in addition to cattle, Aug 2010

Turkana pastoralist John Ewoton Ekaran has lost more than cattle during those raids.  "I had my gun to protect my cattle.  Our enemies attacked us all the time.  They took our animals.  They killed all of my brothers.  So, now, I do not have any brothers left," said Ekaran.

Guns rather than spears are the weapons of choice among many modern pastoralists in Africa.  To cut down on the violence, last year the Kenyan government formed a committee of senior police, military and intelligence officials to disarm pastoralist communities.  The committee instituted an amnesty program intending to collect 50,000 firearms, but gathered only about 2,400.

Patrick Muriira is the district commissioner for Turkana West.  He said the government extended the program in an effort to collect more guns.  "We have met with some success because we have been able to, first of all, sensitize people on the dangers of holding illegal firearms."

Muriira said most of the firearms come from Sudan and Ethiopia. "We cannot have development in this district for as long as people are holding illegal guns," said Muriira.

Muriira said the government's disarmament program includes community development strategies to build roads and open schools.

An armed pastoralist watches over his herd with hi
An armed pastoralist watches over his herd with his rifle - the weapon of choice among herders - slung over his shoulder, Aug 2010

Many pastoralists, however, say they need their firearms to protect themselves.  They argue that communities in Uganda, Sudan and Ethiopia also need to be disarmed for peace to come to Kenya.  Additionally, they call on the government to boost security forces in cattle-rustling areas.

Pastoralist Lotira Esinyen Abong said, "Now that my gun has been taken away, I feel like a desperate woman who is looking for any man to marry her.  I am defenseless and helpless.  The gun also helped me to hunt wild animals for food."

The Ugandan government has carried out a disarmament program in the Karamoja area for the past decade, but attacks by Karamajong in northern Kenya continue.