Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

The Rise of the 'Traider': The Commercialization of Raiding in Karamoja

Academic journal article Nomadic Peoples

The Rise of the 'Traider': The Commercialization of Raiding in Karamoja

Article excerpt


The majority of published material on the commercialization of raiding in Karamoja deals with warlords or other elite conflict entrepreneurs. This article suggests that commercialization has also triggered profound changes at a more local level. Based on a range of interviews within the region, it will argue that commercial forces have made possible the rise of the 'traider'. 'Traiders', or livestock traders who were or are raiders themselves, use inside information to purchase stolen cattle from thieves immediately after an attack. Frustrated victims argue that 'traiders' can easily launder the proceeds of a theft, rendering the recovery of stolen cattle almost impossible. Unfortunately, the Ugandan state's punitive approach to law enforcement makes them ill-suited to the more sophisticated investigations necessary to capture 'traiders' and earn the trust of Karamoja's inhabitants.

Keywords: Karamoja, Pokot, commercialization, cattle raiding, pastoralism


To theorists like Mbembe and the Comaroffs, the malevolent neglect of the African state has led to new patterns of lawlessness on the fringes of the post-colony, including the rise of indirect private government, elite accumulation, and the privatization of coercive force (Comaroff 2006; Mbembe 2001). Perceptions of increasing violence, driven by commercial forces unleashed through post-Cold War neoliberal reform, have convinced several prominent scholars of African conflicts that 'war has increasingly become the continuation of economics by other means' (Keen 1998). In Karamoja, this transformation narrative has exerted considerable influence over writing on cattle raiding (Froidevaux 2009). The relatively recent adoption of the 'modem' AK-47 over the 'traditional' spear is often seen as symbolic of how older, almost quaint, forms of violence have been replaced by predatory raids motivated by desperation and greed (Mkutu 2007; Vesely 2003; Gray 2000; FIFC 2005; Mirzeler and Young 2000; NCCK, SNV, and SARDEP 2001; ACTED 2009). From this perspective the commercialization of raiding is both a symptom and cause of the region's obvious poverty.

This article begins by examining the dominant framework for understanding the commercialization of raiding in Karamoja. It departs from this approach by arguing that the theoretical focus on elite agency has led to the neglect of the lived experiences of commercialized raiding among both perpetrators and victims. Relying on over 240 interviews conducted across Karamoja and north-western Kenya, the author contends that the main consequence of the commercialization of raiding is the rise of the 'traider', or small-scale livestock traders who have close social ties to cattle thieves. Operating as part of multi-ethnic bands, they rely on privileged information from the thieves in order to purchase stolen cattle cheaply and then sell them in the region's many livestock markets. Since stolen livestock can be quickly exchanged for cash, community leaders struggle to exert any control over the process. And since the police have proven incapable of monitoring the markets effectively, they too have been unable to arrest the rapid pace of minor thefts. In this way, the 'traiders' occupy the space between the social institutions of Karamoja's pastoral communities and the authority of the Ugandan state. From their perspective, commercialized raiding offers new opportunities.

For this reason, 'traiders' are largely responsible for the widely perceived increase in the number of minor thefts in the region, and they represent a significant challenge to the Ugandan authorities. After decades of treating raiding as a crime for which the entire community is responsible, the rise of the 'traider' suggests the police must alter their approach to deal with 'conflict entrepreneurs' operating independently from the control of any ethnic group or territorial section. Like the 'traiders' themselves, the state must become more agile, and try to reach a rapprochement with pastoral communities in order to obtain valuable information in a timely fashion. …

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