That there is more to the so-called traditional practice of cattle rustling in arid and semi-arid northern Kenya than meets the eye is not a secret. It is evident that behind the lawlessness and slaughter of innocent villagers is a thriving illicit meat trade. Had it been just about some primitive villagers raiding their neighbours’ manyattas for cattle to meet their own basic needs, including paying bride price, the increasing use of sophisticated weapons would not have been a big factor.
The acquisition of the automatic rifles used in the raids points to an external factor that is exploiting what was, indeed, one of those evil traditional practices. However, what is happening today is pure criminal activity, whose proceeds line the pockets of some tycoons. Of course, there is also an element of the misuse of weapons provided by the government to protect vulnerable communities. This is precisely why the government has been reviewing the role of the Kenya Police Reserve. Some reservists have been disarmed for misuse of their government-issue rifles.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i was in Marsabit only a few days ago and ordered those holding illegal weapons to hand them over or the government would go for them. This ultimatum is unlikely to end the menace fuelled by the illicit meat trade. As we have documented in our latest special reports, it is the increasing appetite for meat, and not some traditional pastime, that is driving the deadly theft of livestock.
Something must be done urgently to end this deadly business, but, of course, just like narcotics trafficking and other lucrative crimes, it will not be easy to stamp it out. Nonetheless, a crackdown such as that ordered by Dr Matiang’i and clamping down on the illicit meat trade hold the answer to this puzzle.