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The role of elite rivalry and ethnic politics in livestock raids in northern Kenya

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 August 2017

Willis Okumu*
Right Livelihood College (RLC), Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, Germany
Kaderi Noagah Bukari*
Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, Germany
Papa Sow*
Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn, Germany
Evans Onyiego*
Catholic Diocese of Maralal, Kenya


This paper argues that livestock raids and pastoralists’ competition over water and pastures in north-western Kenya are manifestations of local ethnic political contests and rivalries. The culture of raiding among the Samburu, Turkana, Pokot, Borana, Gabra and Rendille communities has changed over the last 40 years. Whereas elders were once the gatekeepers of communal institutions, today new actors are at the forefront of new forms of violent raids. Among Samburu and Turkana communities, politicians and shrewd businessmen have emerged to exploit ethnic rivalry that exists between these groups and use it to mobilise raids. These political and business elites play influencing roles in raiding by paying and arming warriors to carry out raids. Competition for political influence is closely intertwined with competition over scarce water resources and grazing pastures among Turkana and Samburu. Given that pastoralists survive on decreasing pasture and water resources, our study shows that political elites arm their communities during the dry season to gain the upper hand in contests over access to limited resources. Livestock raids no longer occur in the traditional context of restocking, but rather as an expression and manifestation of local ethnic politics and political contests between ethnic kingpins. The study uses primary field data from a case study collected through in-depth interviews, oral history and group discussions with various actors.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2017 

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