Fresh bid to turn cattle rustling corridors into trade routes

Sunday July 07 2024

Karamoja Development Forum (KDF) facilitating a dialogue for various tribes to discuss issues related to a peaceful disarmament. PHOTO | FILE | NMG


For decades, the porous border between Kenya and Uganda has been characterised by armed conflicts, livestock raids and arms smuggling between herders as they compete for pasture and water. It becomes worse in times of drought.

Mr Joseph Moit, a one-time participant in such raids remembers how one attack forced the other side to arm themselves, fearing that far-away authorities would take their sweet time to respond.

“I have lived with the gun for more than 15 years because of the protracted conflict between Turkana and Pokot ethnic communities as well as Dodoth, Jie and Karamajong communities from neighbouring Uganda.

“During that period, I was losing livestock and restocking them through deadly raids in the company of my friends. Five of them were shot dead between 2005 and 2013,” Mr Moit, now reformed and helping his community change their ways, says.

Read: Kenya, Uganda opt for border post to stop bandits

According to him, the fear of exposure, as well as the ease of moving small arms across the borders has contributed to the regular attacks.


Authorities on both sides have been trying to end the menace. Over the last decade, for example, there has been sustained coordinated security operations between police officers from Kenya and Uganda, to mop up illegal firearms following killings of innocent motorists, children, women and traders. This was his turning point.

Last year in April, Ugandan authorities conducted a Cordon-and-Search operation and arrested 32 Turkana pastoralists. They also seized 27 AK 47 rifles, one self-loading rifle, 751 rounds of ammunition, 32 magazines, three sets of Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) uniform, 19 bows and arrows.

Mr Moit says the seriousness with which Ugandan authorities responded to a previous raid was his eye opener on dealing in illegal arms.

After the 32 were arrested and incarcerated, their kin in Kenya piled pressure on the Kenyan government to help free them up. They would later be jailed for 20 years each in Uganda for illegal possession of firearms and ammunition. They were freed earlier this year, after nearly a year in jail, thanks to intense lobbying by Kenyan officials.

That bad experience has now informed Mr Moit and his cohort to turn to something else: trade.

“I felt how traders from Lokiriama were exposed to attacks by highway bandits while crossing over to Moroto to get goods,” he says.

He remembers an incident in which a bodaboda operator was shot dead in March this year and his motorcycle and all the goods stolen.

He says that insecurity has often led to food scarcity, given that those who grow better produce across the border can’t supply and continual enmity had prevented his own villagers from searching for food across the border, without being suspected of planning something sinister.

Read: Deaths as banditry in Kenya's north surges

For the last four months, several reformed warriors have emerged from villages initially thought to be battlegrounds. The reformists say they have turned to business for survival. They are Oropoi, Nawountos, Lokiriama, and Urum communities in Kenya, as well as Kobebe, Losogol, Lopei, Naput, Chokchok, Nakabaat, Losilan, Nadunget in Uganda.

“I am advocating for a border free from illegal firearms by talking to the bandits from my community on the importance of peaceful coexistence,” says Mr Erot Eusugu, one of 32 Turkana herders released by Uganda’s Military Court.

Urum Location Chief Stephen Lorot said that peace-building activities advocated by locals are more practical and fruitful.

“Locals would opt not to share information about banditry carried out by relatives- a situation that has always jeopardised peace-building efforts. Talking to them to reform and focus on sustainable pastoralism will open up the village to development,” Mr Lorot says.

With increased trading activities, the Turkana County Government has completed routine maintenance on the 69-kilometre Lokiriama-Lokipoto Road to facilitate trade between Kenya and Uganda.

The move according to authorities is expected to significantly benefit traders who depend on the road for cross-border movement of goods and services.

A Ugandan security expert David Porkul said both countries have to maintain law and order, so that cattle rustling corridors expansively become corridors of peace, development and trade.

Dr Porkul says that commitment to adhere to peace agreements between the communities should pay off by eliminating illegal firearms.

Turkana County Director of Trade James Lokwale says that pastoralists who include reformed warriors should establish market days at various centres to buy or sell livestock as opposed to theft. He says many Ugandan traders have established shops in Turkana where they sell shoes and clothes.