The Changing Nature of Livestock Raiding and its Role in Famine

Summary of published paper

Turkana woman posing with the editor's son

A newly published paper in 'Disasters' examines a specific form of conflict: livestock raiding in Turkana district. The case is made that the context of famine in Turkana has changed in recent years as the role played by livestock raiding in contributing to famine has increased. External responses to famine in Turkana have largely been drought driven, for example, food assistance and livestock restocking programmes. These responses have failed to meet the real needs of herders while the role of armed conflict in the form of raiding has been overlooked as a common feature of societies facing famine and food insecurity. More recent studies argue that raiding and generalised insecurity played a key role in the 1979-81 famine in north Turkana and confirm that raiding is a prominent feature of famine and chronic food insecurity in the district.

In the paper, the traditional livelihood enhancing functions of livestock raiding are contrasted with the more predatory forms common today. Predatory raiding occurs on a very large scale, is extremely violent and is sponsored by actors from outside the pastoral sector with criminal motives. It is largely initiated by people outside Turkana including armed military or bandit groups in Kenya or surrounding states as well as economic entrepreneurs. The motives are commercial - to procure cattle in vast quantities either to feed warring armies or to sell on the market for profit. This contrasts with more traditional redistributive raiding which carries with it notions of balance and reciprocity. In the past this type of raiding has been a sophisticated means of reallocating pastoral resources between rich and poor herders and has been an equally common feature of both intra-tribal and inter-tribal relations. Raiding has served to rebuild herds after livestock have been killed by drought or seized in raids and its incidence is thus often closely tied to climatic conditions and the prevailing state of the tribal peace. It has been governed by very complex rules within the context of an indigenous conception of livestock as a collective property.

The authors assert that the direct impact of predatory raiding on livelihood security can be devastating, while the threat of raids and measures taken to cope with this uncertainty undermine herders livelihood strategies. Self-imposed restrictions on mobility negatively affect the vegetation of both grazed and ungrazed pastures and restrict available survival strategies. A 1985 study found that 47 percent of Turkana district - including much of the best grazing land, was virtually unused during the 1982-4 period due to the mere threat of raiding faced by local herders. Predatory raiding also leads to a collapse in the moral economy, i.e. the rights of herders to make claims on other herders on goods such as cattle and grain in times of crisis. Some implications of this for relief and development policy are considered, including approaches to conflict resolution. The authors argue that distinction needs to be made between drought induced food insecurity and that caused by raiding, in identifying most appropriate interventions. For example, re-stocking may not be an appropriate response if it simply attracts marauding 'predators'. Some agencies recognise this and have become involved in the area of conflict resolution and building local capacity to manage conflict. The authors worry, however, that there is a danger that two key issues will receive inadequate attention. The first is that the state must be brought into any debate on the problem of insecurity in the pastoral sector, as in the long run the state offers the best forum for mediating in conflicts where outside actors are involved and for enforcing any settlements which are reached. The second is to do with the appropriate balance between outside and local approaches to conflict resolution. Conflict resolution mechanisms are already embedded in local cultural and institutional norms and evolve continuously to meet changing demands. While the nature of conflicts in the pastoral sector today is changing dramatically, the starting point for addressing them is to examine how this local knowledge can be deployed in new ways.

Reference: The Changing Nature of Conflict and Famine and Vulnerability: The case of Livestock Raiding in Turkana District Kenya: Hendrickson D., Arman J. and Merns R. (1998): Disasters, volume 22, No 3, September 1998.

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The Changing Nature of Livestock Raiding and its Role in Famine. Field Exchange 6, February 1999. p9. www.ennonline.net/fex/6/changing