HORN OF AFRICA: Cattle rustling 'goes commercial'

Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Cattle rustling in the Horn of Africa, formerly a means of replenishing animals for subsistence, is now widely practised as a commercial activity, according to a development policy analyst.

"Conflicts among pastoralists are no longer just small feuds to restock cattle after a dry spell. They have become more frequent and intense and are conducted to obtain cattle for sale elsewhere," said Abdalla Bujra, policy director of the Development Policy Management Forum, a regional civil society organisation involved in conflict analysis and resolution in eastern Africa.

Cattle raids were traditionally a communal survival mechanism whereby nomadic pastoralists in mainly arid and semi-arid areas restocked their herds after losing livestock to natural disasters such as drought, Bujra said. Nomadic herders were able to peacefully move across borders in search of pasture but not any more, he said.

"Cattle have become commercialised and conflicts have become big business in this region," he added. "The demand for livestock products in places like Nairobi, Dhobley [Somalia], Saudi Arabia and other places is huge," he said.

Frequent and more violent cattle raids have also forced pastoralists to change their mode of operation.

"These people are becoming more organised in the way they look for pasture, defend their water pans and trade with others," Bujra said. Pastoral communities are also increasingly adopting farming, charcoal trade and tourism as nomadic cattle-keeping becomes more precarious.

In addition to the thriving cattle trade, Bujra said such cross-border conflicts were being fuelled by illegal small arms. The communities needed arms to protect themselves from other raiders and to defend their land from encroachment.

Persistent conflicts have contributed to regional insecurity, stalling development. Governments in the Horn of Africa have attempted to deal with the problem, initiating peace and disarmament campaigns, so that warriors who normally engage in cattle rustling are encouraged to give up arms in exchange for money to start more peaceful income-generating activities.

Bujra was discussing recent comparative research involving five pastoral communities in five countries - the Oromo of Ethiopia, Turkana and Pokot of Kenya, Karamojong of Uganda and Somalis. The research is intended to help in developing appropriate policy and strategies for coping with the challenges of conflict resolution in the region.
Author: IRIN
Source: IRIN
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