Warriors and Guns: The Anthropology of Cattle
Rustling in Northeastern Africa
The justification for the study of asymmetrical conflicts cannot be overstated, considering that they occur daily amongst pastoral peoples, they are not anchored to a specific military doctrine, they have no frontlines, the shape and size of the warring parties cannot easily be determined, and, although weapons of mass destruction are not used, casualties from single attacks are often higher than in some inter-state wars. Even so, for a serious study of human society, the escalation, or the attritional nature of a given form of conflict is a criterion inadequate for the justifying of scholarly analysis. Furthermore, as pastoral conflicts in general and livestock rustlings in particular fall under the internal security framework of the state, institutions outside the local African knowledge situation have a limited awareness of their existence and their devastating impact on the societies in which they occur; and hence the international capacity to regulate them is circumscribed.
It is important to acknowledge that my contribution's lack of statistical details for the current casualty rates, patterns of incidence, and constancy of raids for all the pastoral peoples of Africa inhibits any generalization of theories of limited warfare that could put the phenomenon of raiding into a more comprehensive theoretical framework. Although livestock rustlings and bandit skirmishes with security forces are often trivialized as incidents in military field reports and security intelligence summaries that are still not in the public domain, this study obtained first-hand information by cluster-sampling informants from a wide geographical area, mostly on an ad hoc basis, and triangulating their oral evidence with that of informed independent sources. The study defines the problem in the light of existing studies on pastoral conflicts, and then explores the anthropological and physical context of livestock rustling and predatory expansion among the Turkana, Pokot and Toposa of northeastern Africa. The degree of explicit conceptualization involved is therefore limited, as the evidence is mainly obtained from fieldwork, archival, and newspaper sources, which therefore lend themselves to an account that is more descriptive than analytical.