KENYA: Church leaders say northern military operation must end

March 15, 2009

Kenyan church leaders are urging the government to halt a military operation in the north of the country to recover firearms and 6,000 animals stolen by cattle rustlers.

"We are saying the operation must stop," Anglican Bishop Charles Gaita of Nyahururu told Ecumenical News International on March 11. "Those who have stolen other people's animals should return them voluntarily."

On March 5, the government launched the operation in which soldiers are impounding animals allegedly stolen by the Samburu, a pastoralist community, and redistributing them to the purported owners in Meru and Isiolo districts.

Gaita said, however, the local people had told the church they were being subjected to harassment and brutality. He warned the operation would not solve the problem of cattle rustling in the region.

"The government must look into the root causes of the problem. It must find out why people are stealing each others' livestock, and end the problem once and for all," said Gaita.

The bishop said the cattle rustling had been fuelled by an age-old tradition in which young men from pastoralist communities have raided cattle to raise bride prices, the wealth by a groom or his family to the parents of his intended bride. Gaita said the young men should be educated about new ways of finding that price.

Roman Catholic bishops Anthony Ireri Mukobo of Isiolo and Virgilio Pante of Maralal issued a call in a March 9 statement for an urgent peace meeting and compensation for communities that have lost their animals in the operation.

"The government seems not to be conscious of the aftermath of this operation, which leaves the communities more divided than before," they stated. "We call upon the government to cease the operation immediately and use those resources to bring its people together for dialogue."

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