Availability of firearms exacerbating insecurity

A young Turkana man armed with an AK-47 rifle, Oropoi, northwestern Kenya, 18 February 2007. Conflicts involving pastoralists associated with resource competition, cattle rustling and arms are widespread and of increasing concern in the region.
(Siegfried Modola/IRIN)

The widespread availability of firearms in the northern regions of Kenya has exacerbated insecurity and more people are being killed during livestock raids.

At least 60 people died while another 15 were injured following clashes on 29 July between the Turkana and Pokot communities in northwestern Kenya, according to the Kenya Red Cross Society (KRCS).

"Most of the injured had bullet and [knife] wounds," said Anthony Mwangi, KRCS public relations manager. "The situation is calm but tense."

The KRCS was providing food and non-food aid to 127 families in the affected division of Lokori, Turkana South District.

"A key cause of conflict is the geographical, social, and political marginalisation of the agro-pastoralist communities living in the Eastern Equatoria region [of Sudan] and the neighbouring regions of Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya," according to a report by Small Arms Survey.

"These communities suffer from a lack of basic services, unreliable water supplies, poor leadership, depressed local economies, insufficient responses to drought, widespread poverty, and extremely poor health and education," stated the report, Gauging Fear and Insecurity: Perspectives on Armed Violence in Eastern Equatoria and Turkana North.

As a result, the culture of cattle-rustling among pastoralist communities had been exacerbated by widespread access to and misuse of firearms.

The report is based on the findings of a household survey conducted in May–June 2007 in Eastern Equatoria State, South Sudan, and in border regions of Turkana North District.

"Both actual and perceived levels of insecurity were significantly worse on the Kenyan side of the border than they were in South Sudan, which is recovering from a 21-year civil war," it noted.

Cattle-rustling was common between the Lango, Lotuko, Buya, and Didinga of Eastern Equatoria and the Karamojong of Uganda; between the Toposa of Eastern Equatoria and the Turkana of Kenya; and between the Dodoth of Uganda and the Turkana.

Peace programmes

"Due to the nomadic nature of the pastoralists they have to move and are often attacked when they cross into areas perceived to belong to other communities," Peter Lokoel, a humanitarian field supervisor with Oxfam GB in the Turkana area, said.

"They should be provided with grants to start other businesses such as jewellery making and cash-for-work programmes," he added. "By so doing their sons and daughters will know that they do not need to steal livestock."

Oxfam is involved in peace-building activities in northern Turkana through its local partner, the Riam Riam Peace Network. "If the peace aspect is strengthened the communities can work and live together," he said.

Common amenities serving the two communities such as schools and hospitals should be developed to bring people together, he said. Already, some Turkana pastoralists in the north were freely grazing their cattle with the Merille community from Ethiopia.


Photo: Siegfried Modola/IRIN
Turkana women fetching water for their cattle: these communities suffer from a lack of access to basic services

The NGO was also providing basic education. "Besides disarming the people there is also a need to disarm their minds by changing some of their attitudes," Lokoel said.

In Garissa, Ijara, Tana River and Wajir Districts, a peace-building project, whereby pastoralists receive 20 goats for every gun surrendered, is ongoing.

"The number of goats being offered is enough to compensate for the money paid to buy the guns," Yusuf, one of the beneficiaries, said. A goat sells for between KSh700 (US$12) and KSh2,000 ($33) while an AK-47 rifle sells for around $500.

Government and civic officials are optimistic that the “goats for guns” project will reduce the arms in illegal circulation. The initiative involves local community elders and has helped preempt impending revenge attacks.

So far, 19 guns have been surrendered, Tana River District commissioner Musiambo Wanyama, said. An estimated 1,000 illegal guns are in circulation.

"Local residents are being assured that the government will guarantee their security while youths are being informed that cattle raids are not the only means to earn a living," Wanyama said.

Disarmament has, however, faced some challenges in neighbouring Samburu, with local leaders calling for protection before disarmament.

"Last year we suffered a lot after surrendering more than 2,000 guns. We shall not repeat the same mistake," said Daniel Legerded, a local leader.

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This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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