GETTING OUT OF HAND

To gun down or change tack? Scholars, experts debate taming banditry

It is characterised mainly by cattle rustling and subsequent high-intensity conflicts that have left dozens killed or maimed

In Summary

• Gumba said ‘cattle lords’ recruit and arm rural warriors to steal cattle for sale to abattoirs in towns or cross into neighbouring countries where they sell the animals.

• Abdi says bandits are terrorists and should be treated as such.

MMUST vice chancellor Solomon Shibairo makes a presentation on banditry at the institution.
MMUST vice chancellor Solomon Shibairo makes a presentation on banditry at the institution.
Image: CHETI PRAXIDES
A herd of cattle
A herd of cattle
Image: CHETI PRAXIDES

Scholars and experts have said not all violent problems require violent solutions and banditry, as it is in the country, will not be solved through the barrel of a gun.

There is concern over the growing prominence of the banditry in the country, which is now a serious national security problem.

In Kenya, banditry is characterised mainly by cattle rustling and subsequent high-intensity conflicts that have left dozens killed or maimed, security officers included.

Cattle rustling has been commercialised by international criminal networks in East Africa, aided by a proliferation of small weapons which in turn has undermined development.

 Deo Gumba, a researcher with ENACT transnational organised crime programme at the Institute for Security Studies in Nairobi, said traditionally small-scale stock theft was a way of balancing community wealth and power.

However, he said, crime and capitalism have commercialised the practice, making it a significant economic threat in East Africa and the Horn of Africa.

Gumba said cattle rustling has become a form of organised crime embedded in the wider business of cattle trade, which is enabled by corruption as state officials turn a blind eye or collaborate with criminals.

“Cattle rustlers also exploit weak cross-border coordination between governments in the region. Fieldwork conducted for the ENACT study in Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda and South Sudan revealed allegations that some politicians used bribery to induce rural communities to get involved in cattle rustling networks,” Gumba said.

He said stolen cattle are easy to traffic as they can be disguised as a legal commodity.

Gumba said ‘cattle lords’ recruit and arm rural warriors to steal cattle for sale to abattoirs in towns or cross into neighbouring countries where they sell the animals.

“Because most countries in the region lack specific laws requiring the source of cattle at slaughterhouses to be identified, the butchered meat then enters the legitimate market,” he said.

Scholars from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology and other institutions, while deliberating on the impact of banditry, said it is getting out of hand and needs to be tamed.

Vice chancellor Solomon Shibairo said banditry has led to the loss of human lives, destruction of property, cattle rustling and displacement of people.

He said banditry is a serious threat to internal security, the rule of law and democratic governance, which are all vital for political multiplicity in Kenya.

“We must look deeper into the real cause of banditry and seek to resolve that first so that we can heal the country and move forward,” Shibairo said.

Fauzia Abdi, a scholar, president and founder of Women in International Security in the Horn of Africa, said banditry is both a social issue and a security concern.

She said banditry must be managed through social security and by regarding bandits as terrorists who must in turn be treated as such.

Abdi advocates women’s engagement and involvement in peace and security issues in the country and beyond.

“Bandits are terrorists and should be treated as such. The current wave of insecurity is fuelled by poverty making national security a more complex issue for the government. Let’s work with women in all this," she said.

Prof Josephine Ngaira said banditry is a threat to state security as it contradicts vital national interests and distorts national economic development plans.

“Because of banditry in Kenya, we are witnessing increased incidents of forced migration, food insecurity, cattle rustling, destruction of property, health challenges, displacements, humanitarian crisis and death. All it takes is the empowerment of various institutions for all this to go away,” she said.

 MMUST's Elijah Odhiambo and Edward Mugalavai said banditry can be influenced by desertification, drought, climate change, cattle rustling, and insurgency and population growth.

“Our Judiciary should be ready for justice. This is not the time for corruption and fraud. It is not the time to receive a bribe to pervert justice. It is the time to face facts and interpret the laws in the right way to defeat banditry," Michael Aliyabei of the Kenya Red Cross Society said.

Professor Josephine Ngaira
Professor Josephine Ngaira
Image: CHETI PRAXIDES
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