‘Urban’-Rural as a new divide


“The idea that education will put an end to raiding however, proves counterfeit. It was argued that many of the younger warriors were in fact dropouts, who had left school for various reasons such as feelings of indifference or difficulties paying fees. Having had a background of education, leaves these young boys without the feeling of being rooted in traditional culture, and often without employment opportunities.”

6.1 Introduction

As is argued for by Schlee’s (2001) preliminary theory of integration and conflict, processes of ethnic identification and differentiation come forth from either peaceful or violent confrontations with other groups. Therefore, this chapter will analyse the most important form of inter-ethnic conflict in the research area, which is livestock raiding.[180] As I explained in the previous chapter, livestock and the pastoral lifestyle are valued highly among the Pokot, and they are central to their identity. Livestock provides food and it is associated with most of the rituals. Moreover, intra-ethnic cohesion is strengthened because relations between group members (e.g. dowry, friendship bonds and inheritance) are expressed through the exchange of it. Raiding livestock from other ethnic groups is traditionally considered a legitimate means for Pokot warriors to establish themselves in the community. It enlarges access to a key resource and hence increases the degree of personal independence. Furthermore, the act of raiding, which is accompanied by the killing of enemies, forms one of the ideals of warriorhood, as men involved are admired for showing courage.

Raiding is thus an innate element of the Pokot culture, and one may argue consequently that the Pokot are historically accustomed to this type of insecurity. For the Pokot, the installation of the colonial administration during the early 20th century, meant that they were confronted with an overruling authority that had a different perspective on security issues. Peace was to prevail in order for the administration to govern the area.[181] Moreover, the violent practice of raiding has since been condemned because, according to modern values, human rights are unjustly affected through the loss of property and lives. Consequently, the conflict has been extensively addressed, condemned or acted upon by both the state and NGOs. In this chapter I will try to explain why, despite numerous projects aiming at conflict management and peace building activities, ranging from disarmament to sensitization meetings, livestock raiding is still persistent among the Pokot, and perhaps even more than in the past.

To give an indication of the effects of the raiding conflict, it was estimated by Adan & Pkalya (2005: 69) that in the whole of West-Pokot District during the years 1994-2004, a number of 50,859 livestock was stolen, 349 lives had been claimed, and 94 people had been injured due to “cattle related and resource use conflicts”.[182] Additionally, insecurity has negatively affected development activities, as neither a large share of developmental workers nor the targeted people feel safe enough to respectively work ‘in the field’, or make use of the facilities. According to a recent District Development Plan, insecurity caused by ‘cattle-rustling’ is the main attributor to poverty in West-Pokot District (GoK, 2002). Pkalya et al. (2003: 44), estimated that 69% (25,217 people) of the population of the two most northern divisions of West-Pokot District (Alale and Kasei), were either directly or indirectly affected by the cattle raiding conflict, mainly through “massive displacement”.[183] As a result, displacement may negatively affect ecological resources, as Bollig (1990b) has pointed out for the Eastern Pokot. Firstly, because abnormal concentrations of people and livestock in relatively safe areas may lead to overgrazing and soil erosion. Secondly, the vegetation cover of pastures in the insecure and therefore ungrazed areas may degrade due to bush encroachment and change of grass species.

High concentrations of people and livestock, especially in the surroundings of ‘towns’, cause for the degradation of the ecological resources. (Photo by: Rob Smiers, April 2005)

Albeit livestock raiding still takes place, it was argued by respondents that the conflict had changed considerably during the last three decades.[184] One explanation was that the social organization of the community was believed to be ‘eroding’. The authority of the elders, the group that traditionally decides upon conflict management, was believed to be negatively affected. Another explanation was attributed to the influence of automatic weapons, which have become widely available in the research area since the late 1970s. Furthermore, the raiding conflict seems to be changing because new actors (most importantly livestock traders and politicians) have come up, and act as facilitators in the clashes. In this chapter, I try to shed light on this changing context of the conflict and question whether new identity strategies can be detected as a result of this.

The study of the raiding conflict leads to a broader analysis of social change among the Pokot, which resulted from the ‘opening up’ of the research area during the 1970s. The second part of the chapter discusses therefore how developmental activities entered the area, and introduced new (or modern) values. Because these activities are geographically defined, in that they are mostly centered on the villages and specific parts of the highlands, this has resulted in a changed perspective on the traditional divide between the pastoral and agricultural sections of the Pokot.


6.2 The tradition of raiding

6.2.1 Warriorhood and violence against ‘the other’

For the Pokot raiding has traditionally been an integral aspect of their culture, and they claim the practice has existed from time immemorial. For as far as we can trace back in the national archives, it is notable that the Pokot and surrounding neighbours, particularly the Karimojong and Turkana, have been raiding each other on a regular basis, at least since the beginning of the 20th century. Furthermore, raids and more general clashes between ethnic groups form an important substance of the oral traditions, and as I described in chapter 4, the early formation and migration history of the Pokot are partly explained by it. The Pokot refer to themselves as an isolated group that is surrounded by enemies (e.g. Bollig, 2006).[185] Historically, this led to the ideological belief that in order for them to survive, they have to conceal their identity, something that is prominently expressed through adopting cultural characteristics of their neighbours (see paragraph 5.4).

Concerning the latter, Bollig (1990a) has linked the raiding tradition among the western Pokot, to the adoption of the new generation-set system based on sapana. I believe it was not necessarily the adoption of the new generation-set system that enabled large- scale military mobilization. A highly organized and effective military organization was also found among other Kalenjin groups, most importantly the Nandi, who base their age- organization on circumcision.[186]

In the case of Pokot, military organization is not that strictly defined to certain age- ranks anyhow (e.g. Schneider, 1959). Peristiany (1951b: 282) rightly states about this that:“(1) although entry into manhood is regulated by the age-system no obstacles are put in the way of the would-be warriors (2) the age-system does not provide for enforced retirement, and (3) the offensive and defensive organization is based on the principle of the nation armeé so that all able-bodied men carry and use arms as long as they are in a position to do so.”

In another article on ethnic conflict between the Pokot and Turkana, Bollig (1990b: 88) also notes that among the Pokot the rhetoric of age-sets may be used to motivate men for warfare, and age- and generation-sets may be used to mobilize personnel for raiding, however:“Age-sets are not organized as a military organization. They lack internal leadership and formal group organization.” According to Pokot tradition, all able men are considered warriors, with the duty of defending the Pokot community, which includes its territory and livestock.

Instead of explaining the origins of raiding through age-organization, we might rather see the promotion of militarization, coming forth from the increasing importance of pastoralism during the 19th century. In his assessment of the eastern expansion of the Pokot, Bollig (1990a) confirms this point.[187] Livestock is central to food needs and social transactions among the Pokot, and reasonably, because of greater dependency on livestock, raiding is more important for the pastoralists of the lowlands than for the agriculturalists of the highlands. This is not to say that the latter are not involved, rather that it is more actively carried out by the former. Furthermore, as for all Pokot life rotates around livestock, defending this key resource equals ensuring the survival of the community. By tradition, it is better for a Pokot to die when protecting the community and its livestock during raids, than to die of any other cause like natural disease (e.g. Lipale, 2005). In this sense, the insecurity that is inherent to the raiding conflict is therefore rather perceived as a means of safeguarding the community’s survival.

In her research on perceptions of violence among pastoral Pokot, Mieth (2006: 29) mentions that “all warriors said that raids are unavoidable, and so is death”. The high risks taken are explained by a central motivation behind raiding, namely the desire of warriors to prove themselves, to establish a reputation. Warriorhood is associated with aggressive and violent behaviour, and raiding and killing enemies adds to the social prestige of men. The symbolic value is underlined through the fact that the names of warriors may be changed after having killed an enemy, and body marks may be placed as to show their courageous achievements.[188] In addition, Bollig (2006) mentions ‘bravery’, as one of the outstanding character traits of the ideal Pokot warrior. The heroism associated with raiding is publicly promoted, for example in traditional dances and songs that incite men towards fighting.

The raiding conflict is principally defined by ethnicity, and warriors act on the basis of primordial attachments.[189] During raids, warriors are prepared to sacrifice their lives because of their ethnic membership, and traditionally raiding and killing enemies is justified merely because of difference in ethnicity. We must thus take into account that revenging previous raids may target innocent people. Eaton (2007) argues indeed that warriors often do not take into account whether the people they target, are actually the ones who raided them in the first place, and he sees this asymmetrical retaliation as a major cause for continuous raiding in the area. Tracking the initial thieves and the stolen livestock may prove difficult as this involves the willingness of persons belonging to other ethnic groups to assist in the search. Eaton furthermore states that the conflict is complicated by the fact that members of the victim’s ethnic group, may decide to retaliate ‘on the victim’s behalf’. All this attributes to a culture of revenge, and as a result, people in the area are prone to cycles of violence.

Violence against other ethnic groups is legitimized by, one may say, a process of ‘dehumanizing the enemy’. This is especially expressed by the deliberate killing of women and children during raids. While some people argue (possibly out of social desirability) that women and children have a kind of neutral status in the fights and that traditional moral codes of conduct meant that they should be spared, in general the interviews pointed out otherwise. In fact, it was reasoned that these killings were legitimate because as someone said:“You can kill those women and children. When you don’t, the enemy will multiply. They will become stronger and they will strike us even harder.[190] Perceptions on whether this practice has always existed, differed. While some people argued that this was the case, others believed this form of increased violence had set in due to a moral decline that characterized the conflict since the 1970s.[191]

Perhaps we may see the tendency to target women and children in the light of ‘jeopardized damage control strategies’ as Krätli & Swift (2001) argue for. According to them an increase in violence towards women and children may be partly explained by the fact that pastoralists are nowadays more limited in their mobility because of high concentrations of people and livestock. Furthermore, because people have more sedentary herding strategies nowadays, women and children may be more easily targeted in raids.

A serious incident that occurred in 1997, at a time when the relation between the Pokot and the Karimojong seriously deteriorated, had shocked respondents because of cruel violence. In that year many Pokot had fled to Upe to avoid a disarmament operation of the Kenyan government. During this movement many Pokot were killed, among them many children. Concerning the latter, one respondent recalled:

“The Karimojong brutally attacked us at Chemakan. They killed around fifty of our children. They were innocent! It was the worst thing they had ever done.”[192]

On the other hand, as said before, when violence is directed towards other groups, people may show less concern. Mieth (2006: 34) observed “emotional detachment” among Pokot women, when she discussed the violence of the raiding conflict with them. The example she notes is illustrative; she asked Pokot women about a confrontation whereby Pokot warriors had killed four Karimojong children and the response was that “they were happy to hear that – since the Karimojong kill their children, too” (ibid. 34).


6.2.2 Resource scarcity as an explanation?

An often-heard explanation is that raiding is related to grievance over scarcity in natural resources resulting from difficult ecological conditions. The scarcity thesis has been dominant in trying to explain the ongoing conflict between the Pokot and Karimojong for the greater part of the 20th century. Several authors have argued that periods of conflict between the two groups principally came forth from scarcity of resources linked to periods of droughts (e.g. Brasnett, 1958; Dyson-Hudson, 1958; Barber, 1968; Dietz 1987). The explanation still holds in more recent times, as for example Mkutu (2003) relates an escalation of the conflict between the groups in the period 1999-2003 to droughts in West- Pokot and Karamoja.[193]

Although the Pokot migrate to the Ugandan side during dry seasons, and increased contacts with the Karimojong might be thought of as leading to increased raids, this relation between scarcity and raiding is not corroborated by my findings and those of others researchers that have more recently been investigating the topic. It was argued that traditional peacemaking between the Pokot and other ethnic groups (known as miss), was usually carried out during the dry season for strategic purposes of sharing resources. Masinde et al. (2004), also found this in their study of traditional mechanisms of conflict resolution in the region. They state about peace agreements that “when the rainy season sets in, there is a high likelihood that the pact will be flouted” (ibid.: 38). Eaton (2007) and Mieth (2006) also found that raiding among the Pokot occurred mostly during the rainy season. Eaton (2007: 7) clearly states:

“The people of the North Rift are well aware that intensive fighting during a drought would be suicidal; at the end of the dry season, they often are faced with the choice of sharing what little grazing and water remains, or fighting to defend their resources against a well-armed opponent who has nothing to lose. The choice is obvious, and only in rare circumstances will a destitute ethnic group be denied access to scarce resources. Although it may seem logical to suggest that scarcity causes violence, in reality local practice ensures that this is rarely the case.”[194]

Even if the relation between raids and periods of droughts may be rejected, the concept of resource scarcity still holds some importance for tracing the motivations behind raiding. Instead of defining scarcity in ecological terms we may rather look at the cultural significance of the concept. A situation of independence and prosperity of a household is highly valued among the Pokot (see also paragraph 5.3.4), something which may be fostered through raiding. Hence, a successful and thus respected warrior is someone who is self- sufficient, and has a homestead wherein he preferably maintains more than one wife, his children, as well as a large number of livestock. Marriage is an institution of great significance among the Pokot, to the extent that only married individuals are considered full members of the community. During the research, it was argued that raids were carried out by the younger warriors because they were eager to marry, and they needed to accumulate livestock for dowry payments. Also for the somewhat older warriors, raiding is still a prestigious act, because when successful, it increases the independence and prosperity of the household, and it opens possibilities for further marriages.

The stance of Pokot women is interesting. Unmarried women may incite men to go for raids, moreover since women generally pride themselves according to the amount of dowry that will be paid for them (e.g. Lipale, 2005). In addition, married women were also said to be supportive to the raiding of their husbands. Mieth (2006) also found that co-wives encouraged raiding by their husband, as they competed among each other for the same man, and one may add to this, the husband’s attention, and the livestock he has raided.

Another angle whereby scarcity is relevant in cultural terms is pointed out by Bollig (1990a), who believes that raiding has historically brought opportunities for poor immigrants. Positively, there may have been a considerable amount of non-Pokot among the people that migrated to the pastoral areas as he argues for. Probably this is because, as I described in chapter 4, the Pokot see the adoption of newcomers into their clans as a survival strategy. However, besides non-Pokot, the immigrants may just as well consist of Pokot from the highlands, as the harmonica-like migratory movement portrays. The highland Pokot, initially poorer in terms of livestock, may prefer to live a pastoral lifestyle, which is traditionally considered superior to an agricultural lifestyle, and raiding is a means to attain this.[195]



6.2.3 The authority of the elders and prophets

A fundamental concept of Pokot morality is respect for the authority of the male elders, as they are the ones who traditionally decide on matters concerning the community (see also paragraph 5.4.2). According to customary rule, a traditional raid is planned by the elders and executed by the younger warriors, who need approval in the form of blessings of the former. It was said that the elders prominently derived their powers from their ability to curse. When livestock trade was not yet established in the area as is it today, the raided livestock was divided between these parties, and used as productive herd capital. Furthermore, elders are the ones managing the resolution of both inter-ethnic and intra-ethnic conflicts. To establish inter-ethnic peace-agreements, elders of the clashing communities gather and discuss concord. Often a bull is slaughtered, and oathing is done to curse the persons who intend to break the concord.

It must be said that intra-ethnic conflict management is traditionally perceived as far more effective than inter-ethnic conflict management, especially because through this collective form of punishment, whole clans are believed to be affected. Wrongdoings against fellow Pokot are regarded as serious crimes that undermine the highly valued ethnic solidarity, and consequently they are severely punished. Most important is firstly lapai, a heavy fine that should be paid after a fellow Pokot is killed (also accidentally), by the family of the culprit and his/her clan relatives. Moreover, the relatives of the diseased have the right to take the property of members of the murderer’s clan, and loot them as a sign of grief. The second imperative form of punishment is muma, an oathing ritual, which is used to reveal the truth in a matter where two parties keep disagreeing over who committed a crime. It acts as a last resort since the effects are believed to be devastating. The culprit, his/her family, and extended clan relatives are said to be terrorized by sickness and death until the wrongdoing is admitted. In the end, disputes concerning clans are usually settled by clan elders, the senior and most respected members of the clan, who are knowledgeable on the clan’s history.

Besides the general blessings of the elders, warriors are consulted and blessed by other specialists in the community, most importantly the prophets [sing. werkoyon, plur. werkoy]. Prophets are highly respected in the Pokot community, because it is believed they (both male and female) are able to predict the future through their dreams. They advise the community according to which upcoming dangers and opportunities they foresee. Prophets inherit their position through the sub-clan line. Among the most well known sub-clans that bring forth werkoy are the Chepotumeghyo (of the Sotot clan) and the Cheposait (of the Talai clan). Peristiany (1975: 211), who studied the werkoy among the Pokot notes: “The prophet is a reflection and a reminder of the events that mark, indelibly, the Pokot ethnic identity”. Great prophets of the past are said to have predicted major events such as the arrival of the colonialists, and the construction of roads.

Werkoy give advice on communal matters, for instance on the time of opening of new age- or generation (sub)sets, changing environmental circumstances (and the proper times for cultivating), and upcoming diseases. The prophets also advise on the timing and setup of raids. In addition, they are said to warn the people as to when they should move due to counter-raids. The prophets are involved in rituals to ward-off hazards or to bless missions such as raids, and they are generally believed to get a share of the raided livestock, although ideally they should not aspire the commercialization of their skills.[196]

It must be said that information about the werkoy, especially the most important ones, is not easily disclosed. This is because the affairs of the werkoy are regarded as one of the most important secrets among the Pokot. People should not talk about them openly, they should not mention their names, especially not at night because then the prophets are believed to notice this through their dreams. In order not to reveal the identity of the prophets, people refer to them as monïng (children).


6.3 Conflict in the context of ‘depastoralisation’

Most respondents were keen to address that the current raiding conflict seriously differed from that of the past. In general, they argued that ‘moral decline’ had not only significantly affected relations within the Pokot community, but also between the Pokot and surrounding ethnic groups. The most obvious visible change in the conflict, the prevalence of firearms, was often cited as a major cause of this. When evaluating the raiding conflict of the past with that of today, it was widely felt the latter was far more destructive. Often, bitter statements were pronounced:“The [raiding] situation is out of control nowadays. This is because the youngsters won’t listen. It is all about the money now.”[197]

“Between the Pokot and the Karimojong and Turkana, there is more violence, because of the firearms. The raids are there more frequently and traditional peace no longer holds. There is much more hostility compared to past times.”[198]

The first quote signifies a general perception of disorder within the community, whereby it was felt that the authority of the elders was no longer effective in managing the conflict. The young generation was said to be no longer respecting them, and tended to act in more autonomous ways. The second quote indicates that the relationship between the Pokot and other ethnic groups is perceived as having been gravely deteriorated due to excessive violence and greater mistrust. Respondents argued that this resulted in increased breakings of peace pacts, and less contacts and intermarriages between ethnic groups.[199]

When asking further about the distinction made between the current and the past, the time of major change was often traced back to the year 1979. Let us therefore briefly consider what has happened since.[200] The year 1979 coincides with the start of a three-year period known as the ‘Dark Age’, throughout which the community was hit by several calamities (Andiema et al., 2003). Especially the lowlands were hit, according to Dietz (1987: 241), by “probably the severest crises of the century”. During these years, there was an escalation of insecurity problems, rinderpest, drought, epidemic diseases, and famine.

After the collapse of Amin’s regime in 1979, the Moroto Barracks that had been fully stored with AK47 arms, were left by confused soldiers, who opened them up, hoping to receive support of the local people. The Matheniko section of the Karimojong, as well as Tepeth, grabbed the chance to arm themselves and raid their neighbours. As a result the region quickly armed. Whereas the raiding situation had been relatively peaceful before, because the Karimojong feared reprisals from Amin, from 1979 onwards large scale conflict arose between the Pokot, Karimojong and Turkana (Dietz, 1987). During 1979-81, severe Karimojong raids forced many Upe Pokot to withdraw eastwards to the Kenyan side. Many fled to Alale division, while others migrated further south to seek refuge in small towns such as Kongelai and Kacheliba.

The situation worsened because a prolonged two-year drought had made grazing poor and harvests fail. An outbreak of a goat disease in 1979 had killed most of the flock in the region and in addition, severe animal loss was spurred by rinderpest in 1980, which killed large numbers of cattle and left people desperate for food. It was said that people had to eat carcasses, something that led to a severe cholera outbreak, claiming many lives. The Kenyan government, missionaries and the Finnish Red Cross distributed famine relief, and many parents decided to send their children to school for food and protection. Raids (also from Turkana side) continued to intensify until late 1982 when the Karimojong and Pokot elders signed a peace pact. In 1983, raiding already resumed, whereby the Pokot were in a somewhat better position to defend themselves. They had armed themselves through barter trade with their neighbours, and with that, the government had handed out guns to home guards for protection.

Just as the Pokot had began their restocking, and raiding between the Pokot and Karimojong had died down, in 1984 disaster struck again. After some Pokot had raided Sebei and large landowners in Trans-Nzoia, the Kenyan government decided to carry out a major disarmament operation. This operation was targeted on the Pokot only, leaving them vulnerable to the attacks of their non-disarmed neighbours. In order to force people to surrender their guns, cattle was confiscated in large numbers. Many people lost all their cattle, as only a very small portion of it was returned, and most of it had died while being crammed in the army camps. Osamba (2000: 22) argues that the disarmament operation of 1984 could therefore be seen as “evidence of attempted depastoralisation of the Pokot”. As a result, even dowry payments had to be postponed. Soldiers looted and raped, and the army bombed the people with helicopters, which made people to hide in caves. The situation aggravated since the operation was carried out in yet another period of drought and famine. Relief food was hardly distributed, primarily because missionaries were hardly allowed to visit the area. Many people had to survive on wild animals, fruit and roots. The situation worsened as there were barely any medical facilities available.

In 1986, another disarmament operation followed in the northern Pokot area, after some Pokot warriors had raided the Turkana. The army strongly intervened, and a number of Pokot were killed. Even though the results were not as bad as in 1984, mainly because the Provincial Commissioner of the Rift Valley Province intervened, the operation of 1986 was still perceived as excessive. Although already in 1979, “the point had been reached where less than one-third of human food requirements could be secured from subsistence livestock production”, since then, “the gradual process of undermining pastoralism suddenly accelerated” (Dietz, 1993: 86-87).[201] By the mid 1980s many Pokot had become in Dietz’s (1987) words, ‘pastoralists in dire straits’. Because of decreasing herd sizes[202], livestock raiding has increasingly been regarded as ‘excessive’, something which has led to more hatred. People argued that since they already had less livestock to depend on, it has become even more difficult to rebuild herds after raids.

The calamities in the period 1979-1984, led to “an exodus towards the south” as one respondent articulated.[203] Many northern Pokot residents of Alale and Kasei divisions (in addition to many Upe Pokot) settled around Kacheliba, a relatively safe area compared to where they had lived before. Many tried to survive with the little livestock that was left, others started small farming assisted by good rainfall in 1982, or opened little shops. A portion of the new refugees, together with some of the original residents from Kacheliba, proceeded and migrated to the mountainous areas of Kapenguria, Lelan, Chepareria, and even further to Trans-Nzoia to look for casual labour. Migration in the research area was furthermore fuelled by gold rushes that made many people move to the mountainous areas of Korpu, Kriich, Alale and Chepkarerat on the lowlands. The availability of gold was perceived by many as a ‘God’s gift’, providing them with some means to survive during these harsh years. The mining of gold, together with the selling of miraa (local name for the khat plant), stimulated the cash economy, with an important role for Somali traders as a result.[204]

After 1984, severe insecurity followed between the Pokot and Karimojong until 1993. Large-scale raiding and killing, coupled with famines and outbreaks of meningitis, meant that it was hard for the Pokot to recover from what had happened to them in the period of 1979- 84. A few relatively peaceful years between the Pokot and Karimojong followed, and the first returnees, who had fled south, came back to north Pokot at the start of the 1990s. They brought changes with them, most importantly their acquired appreciation of farming work. The returnees also started small shops, and began to invest in livestock trade. The cash economy, which had been spurred by the gold mining, was further boosted in 1996 through the mining of ruby in Alale. As a result, money became an institutionalized means for trading. As noted in the previous paragraph, in 1997 the relation between the Pokot and Karimojong aggravated due to serious violence. As an indicator of the seriousness of the situation, even President Moi paid a visit to Alale.[205]

Although there have been peace pacts, for example between the Pokot and different sections of the Karimojong, multiple incidents of varied severity have occurred since, all within a short span of time. Records of the number of people killed or the livestock stolen are hard to verify. The insecurity has affected trade, as for example Amudat market on the Ugandan side was briefly closed in 2001 (UNDP, 2004). Because the Pokot are currently widely armed, it is easier for them to reside in Uganda, and there is less need to retreat to the Kenyan side in times of insecurity. However, there are still areas along the border that are considered too insecure to settle, for example the area between Kanyerus and Lokales in the southwest where schools, shops, churches, and markets have all closed. Many former inhabitants have taken refuge in the relatively safe places of Nakuyen or Kacheliba. One of these migrants, who had settled in Kacheliba stated:

“The community who had to move from Lokales still dreams about returning there, the land is productive and there is enough pasture and water. When there would be peace and security, and the government would improve the roads, people would definitely return. Some people actually went back, but the government could not provide security, so they had to get back to Kacheliba.”[206]

Besides conflict with the Karimojong, the Pokot have clashed with other groups as well. From 1996 onwards, there has been severe raiding between the Pokot, Sebei, Marakwet, and landowners in Trans-Nzoia, whereby the conflict with the latter two is mainly concerned with territorial claims. Alike, insecurity in the area of the Turkwell Gorge around Kainuk, an intersection between Pokot and Turkana territory, has flared up since the construction of the Turkwell Gorge Dam in the early 1990s.


6.4 Gun culture and ineffective government security

The most obvious change of the raiding conflict since 1979 has set in due to the prevalence of automatic weapons in the area. Although guns were present in the area already before 1979, the opening up of the Moroto barracks made them available on a large scale.[207] Guns, especially AK47s, are popular among the pastoral Pokot. It must be said from the onset that a large part of the population is in possession of guns because they feel this is needed for defence, since the government fails to provide security in the area, especially in the border regions.

In their report on the proliferation and effects of small arms Kamenju et al. (2003: 39) state: “Of all the districts in the North Rift, West-Pokot is considered the most adversely affected by the gun culture because of its rough terrain and proximity to the Ugandan border”.[208] They estimated the number of illegal arms in the District based on 50% of the adult male population above 15 years to be 36,937, although it must be said that it is hard to verify such a figure, which is also most probably too high. Nonetheless, many people are accustomed to living with guns, as a mission report states: “In West Pokot, carrying small arms is only strange to a stranger in the community” (NCA, 2006: 5). And indeed, although certainly not all men own guns, they are widespread among the pastoralists. The guns enter the research area, primarily from Uganda, a country that receives a large portion of its weapons from war-torn countries of Sudan and Ethiopia. Arms trade is stimulated because the international border, which can be crossed easily, is hardly controlled by security forces. Another source of weapons is Somalia, from where weapons enter West-Pokot District through Baringo (Kamenju et al., 2003).

The response of both the Kenyan and Ugandan government to tackle the ongoing security problem is firstly the recruitment of ‘home guards’, respectively KPRs (Kenya Police Reservists) and LDUs (Local Defence Units). These local inhabitants are appointed by the chiefs, and are supplied with guns and ammunition in order to protect the community. However, the results might be described as adverse. There were several accounts of KPRs were using the guns to raid or lend them out to raiders.[209] The same problems were found for LDUs in Moroto District (Adan & Pkalya, 2005).[210] Another problem is that KPRs lack support from the government side to work effectively. Mieth (2006) found that KPRs were hindered by the fact that they were not allowed to take their guns to the Ugandan side. A research team of Norwegian Church Aid carrying out a field assessment met a group of discontented KPRs at Nauyapong “who felt that the police presence in the area was minimal and while they were prepared to support security initiatives in the area they lacked the ammunition to do so” (NCA, 2006: 8).

Besides the recruitment of home guards, disarmament operations have proven to be the most consequential attempts by the Kenyan government to address the raiding problem. Since the late 1970s, the Pokot have been disarmed every few years.[211] The governments have generally taken the stance that insecurity in the region follows primarily from the proliferation of small arms. For example in 2001, when president Moi ordered the people of West-Pokot, Marakwet, and Baringo Districts to surrender their guns, he preposterously tried to make his point by stating that: “Traditionally [in a situation without guns], cattle rustling does not involve killing people” (Daily Nation, April 18, 2001).

The disarmament operation of 1984, as described above, was memorized as the most disastrous. It had made the Pokot feel hated, isolated and manipulated by the government, moreover because the neighbouring communities had not been targeted in the operation. Asymmetric disarmament is a problem in the area, especially in the case of conflict between the Pokot and Karimojong as this requires cooperation between the Kenyan and Ugandan governments. More often than not disarmament has been carried out asymmetrically, even though both governments made attempts to develop a more coordinated security approach since 1997 (Mkutu, 2003). For example, during the 2001 operation Pokot elders refused to hand in their guns as long as the Karimojong were allowed to use theirs “as walking sticks”, and Pokot councillors expressed that to return guns would be “to invite trouble from Uganda’s Karamojong cattle raiders” (Daily Nation, April 26, 2001). Moreover, during a disarmament operation in 2006, Karimojong elders requested the UPDF (Uganda People’s Defence Force) “to spare their locally made spears, bows and arrows”, because they were “exposed to danger of attacks by the Pokot raiders who have not been disarmed” (Monitor, July 13, 2006).

The fact that the Pokot are found on both sides of the international border, which they frequently cross in search of pasture, brings up additional problems. Mieth (2006: 40) rightly mentions that for the Pokot the border principally “symbolizes greater freedom”. Not only because Pokot from one side flee to the other side during disarmament operations, but also because the border gives them an opportunity to raid on one side and hide from security forces on the other side.[212] The border makes it difficult for security forces to track raiders since they are officially not allowed to operate on foreign territory. Hence in 2007, after several attacks from Kenyan Pokot on the Ugandan side, the DC of Nakapiripirit ordered that “all Kenyan Pokot intending to graze their cattle in Uganda must first seek permission from the resident district commissioner” *…+ because he observed that “although the Pokot of Uganda and those of Kenya had relatives on either side of the border, that did not mean they must flout the laws of either country” (Monitor, September 17, 2007).

During the fieldwork period in May 2005, the Pokot were the first target in a nationwide disarmament operation ordered by the then Security Minister Michuki. As a result, massive displacement took place. Humanitarian organizations estimated that in fear of the operation around 68% (26,000 people) of Kacheliba constituency (consisting of Alale, Kasei and Kacheliba divisions) had fled to Uganda (Daily Nation, May 11, 2005). The disarmament operation proved unsuccessful, as many others that preceded it. More than two months after the start of the operation in 2005, only 2,100 out of the targeted 50,000 arms in the North Rift Districts had been surrendered. However, it was estimated that cattle raids had gone up by 30 per cent in the same period (East African Standard, August 6, 2005).

The continuing disarmament operations have made many Pokot regard the government as an enemy whom they treat with great suspicion. People did not understand why the government would not rather invest in development, by building schools, medical facilities, or roads, instead of targeting them through their operations. The operation of 2005 reminded the Pokot of the 1984-operation, especially when they saw helicopters flying to the army camp in Kacheliba.[213] One week before the operation of May 2005, a respondent noted:

“The Kenyan government is ever picking on the Pokot, especially now when there is a new threat of operation. The government does not act like a father, who is interested in his kids and provides security, as it should be doing, but instead it treats the Pokot as mad dogs, having rabies, by which the only means to end it, is to kill it. *…+ I blame the government for never doing real research on the causes of violence. Since 1984 there have been no sustainable improvements, nothing has been done. The Pokot feel they have been left on their own. *…+ The images of the operation of 1984 are still very much alive. They were reminded once more in 1997 when tanks and helicopters stood


[Figure 6.4: Fire-arms collected during the disarmament operation in 2005. This pile of collected guns was publicly destroyed through burning in a ceremony held at Uhuru Gardens, Nairobi on June 29, 2005. Uhuru Gardens, the memorial park commemorating Kenya’s independence, symbolically signified the importance added to the disarmament operation. Government officials made strong statements, especially about the penalties for gun- owners (e.g. Daily Nation, June 30, 2005) Source: s%20destruction.jpg]


ready again and 60 Pokots were killed when fleeing to Uganda. Every government has so far done an operation among the Pokot, it is kind of like a tradition.”[214]

Guns are needed for protection, so it is argued by the many of the pastoral Pokot, and because the government is not providing this, they need to take matters in their own hands. Instead of ‘targeting’ the Pokot through disarmament, people felt the government should rather provide security through stronger enforcement of law. Yet, police forces are barely present in the isolated areas and people are prone to attacks from enemies. Furthermore, the army camp in Kacheliba hardly reached out to the public to provide security. Although they assisted the community through the distribution of relief food, it was argued that the soldiers even provided ammunition to Pokot warriors for their own protection.

Apart from the more general complaint that the Pokot were marginalized, there is a strong underlying belief that in fact the Pokot warriors are actually feared by the government security forces. The Pokot depict their warriors, especially those of the lowlands, as highly skilled. They consider them as tough men who are familiar with the rough terrain they live in. They are known to strike dreadfully, and are easily able to hide themselves from security forces.[215] During the fieldwork, I also got the impression, like some respondents argued, that therefore disarmament operations were carried out with most force in the highlands, where there are fewer weapons and that in fact the search in the more isolated parts of the lowlands was less intense. The appreciated cunning style was also said to be used towards army personnel during disarmament. The Pokot from the lowlands were said to hand in only some of their older or defunct weapons, sometimes even with the assent of the army.

In general, there is a lack of respect towards government security forces, even though at times they may be feared. In this regard, the colonial administration was rather commended as one respondent stated:“During those days the government was present. Justice was done then. Stolen cattle were recovered, even when this meant that the officers had to go far and search hard.”[216]

And indeed, it seems that the relatively peaceful period between the Pokot and Karimojong from 1930 to 1950 can be attributed to strong presence of the colonial security forces.[217]

Another important aspect attributing to greater legitimacy of the colonial forces is the fact that they were seen as rather non-aligned[218], compared to the independent governments, whose politics are defined by ethnicity. The Pokot, especially now that the president is a Kikuyu, feel they are deliberately marginalized. In 2006, Minister Michuki reinforced his disarmament operation of 2005, which yet again led to massive displacement. He strongly provoked the Pokot by stating:”The Government has decided to disarm the Pokot by force. If they want an experience of 1984 when the Government used force to disarm them, then this is precisely what is going to happen” (East African Standard, May 2, 2006).

The great mistrust that the Pokot show towards their governments is underlined by ethnicity. The operation of 1984 was done when president Moi, a member of the Tugen ethnic group, was in power. The Pokot argue that even though the president was a fellow Kalenjin, they were still marginalized compared to other Kalenjin communities, most notably the Tugen and the Keiyo.[219]

It must be said that the disarmament operations place the chiefs and sub-chiefs in a difficult position since it questions their loyalty to their communities vis-à-vis the government. It was widely believed that chiefs knew which people possessed or dealt in illegal guns, but that they did not desire to give out this information to the government for the sake of their own security.[220] Revealing this information could mean putting their lives at risk and losing the support from their community members. Someone mentioned:“The chiefs have a difficult position in the operation. They can be shot by the army if they are not cooperating. If they do cooperate with the army, they can be shot by the people.”[221]

A number of chiefs indeed complained about the lack of security.[222] Another issue is to what extent chiefs are involved in raiding themselves. Some of the senior chiefs who served in the early 1970s argued that chiefs are presently less respected, not only because they are younger and educated, but moreover because they are believed to be corrupt, taking a share in the division of the booty from cattle raids (e.g. Mkutu, 2003).


6.5 Politics and the discourse of marginalization

An important new catalysing factor in the inter-ethnic conflicts since roughly the 1980s, has been the influence of politicians, who are concerned with ethnic politics. By representing the most numerous ethnic group in their constituency, politicians may choose to inflame or stay silent about conflict against other communities, as they position themselves in readiness for elections. West-Pokot District has quite a history of these ethnic allegations, which are framed around the idea that injustices have been meted out against the Pokot on several accounts. In general, the discourse of marginalization strongly appeals to the Pokot, who feel they are ‘left alone’ or rather that they have been mistreated by their governments.[223]

During the operation of 1984, former Environment and Natural Resources Minister Lotodo, at that time Member of Parliament (MP) for the western lowlands of the District, was jailed for “promoting war-like activities, and was even said to possess a huge arms arsenal, buried in his compound” (Daily Nation, November 18, 2000). As a result, he was temporarily expelled from the KANU party. Lotodo, also referred to as the ‘King of Pokot’, became known in the media for making inflammatory statements. The Sunday Nation (September 13, 1998) stated: “Each time he issued an ultimatum to one or the other ethnic group to return stolen cattle or face the wrath of the Pokots, a murderous raid would ensue”. His major concerns were the historical land losses in Trans-Nzoia, and the construction of the Turkwell Gorge Dam, for which he felt the Pokot were not fairly compensated.[224] Moreover, he pleaded for the Pokot case during the clashes with the Marakwet, which flared up in the build-up to the 1992 multi-party elections and afterwards.[225]

A report of Human Right Watch notes: “The use of inflammatory rhetoric in the North Rift did not end with Lotodo’s death [in 2000]; to the contrary, incitement by Pokot leaders reportedly increased in 2001” (HRW, 2002: 66-67 referring to KHRC, 2001: 48-52). Kapenguria MP Moroto, who succeeded Lotodo, warned in 2001 that the Pokot would use force to reclaim land in Turkana and Trans-Nzoia Districts: “if they [the non-Pokot] are not ready to surrender the land peacefully my kinsmen should not worry because I’m going to protect their interests” (Sunday Nation, March 25, 2001). Just three months before I arrived in the research area, Moroto had been “spending the Christmas holiday in jail over incitement claims”, as together with the Kapenguria mayor and two councillors he had “allegedly urged the members of the community not to vacate land in West Pokot District belonging to non-Pokots” (East African Standard, January 3, 2005).

Conflicts between the Pokot and their neighbouring communities have made MPs representing the latter, to condemn the Pokot. For example, during the 2001 disarmament operation, MPs from Turkana pleaded for disarmament of the Pokot because they would “have taken advantage of self defence claims to harass neighbouring communities” (Daily Nation, May 2, 2001). In defending their own community, the MPs unreasonably claimed that the Turkana themselves were permitted to have guns since they had “a clean history of not misusing firearms” (ibid.). Influences of ethnic politics have come from the Ugandan side too. For instance in 2006, when the intense conflict with the Sebei made that “Kapchorwa District leaders have appealed to the governments of Uganda and Kenya to declare the karimojong and pokot terrorist tribes” (Sunday Vision, May 21, 2006).

It must be said that suggesting that whole ethnic groups are at war with other ethnic groups, is causing for more hatred and more reason to target innocent people. With that, it is to be noted that these suggestions are incorrect. Especially along the expansive borders with the Turkana and Karimojong, conflict and peace are often local affairs between sections of ethnic groups.

Through the influence of national politics, the Pokot have articulated their ethnic identity stronger. Overall, issues of control and access to land have become of vital importance to defining the Pokot identity. Whereas from tradition it shows that Pokot have a strong moral to live peacefully with other ethnic communities in their own territory (see chapter 4), in the last few decades this open outlook has been questioned to some extent. For example in 1982, during threats of a coup against president Moi, and again in advance of multi-party elections in 1992, non-Pokot immigrants where chased away from the towns in Pokot territory (e.g. Dietz, 1987).

The fact that the Pokot are found on both sides of the international border has made it interesting for MPs and councillors to campaign in both countries, since many Pokot are said to be in possession of both Ugandan and Kenyan identity cards (e.g. Singo & Wairagu, 2001; East African Standard, October 25, 2007). In 2002, Poghisio, MP of Kacheliba constituency, was claimed to have been holding “illegal meetings” in Upe County, Uganda. According to the chief political commissioner of the UDPF (Uganda People’s Defence Force), “Poghisio allegedly told the Uganda pokot warriors opposed to the disarmament programme to cross with their guns to Kenya where they would get protection from the Kenya government” (New Vision, January 9, 2002). Poghisio and the MP for Upe county, Lolem, denied the allegation, whereby the latter remarked that “the Kenyan minister had only crossed to Uganda to hand over cattle that had been raided by the Kenyan pokot from Nabilatuk sub-county, Pian” (ibid.).

An employee of the electoral commission explained why MP Pogishio had a strong appeal to the electorate in Uganda:“He grew up in Amudat and had his education in Uganda [Makerere University]. The Pokot from Uganda identify with him, they went through the same problems. He experienced the repression by Amin, the clashes with the Karimojong, and the arms race. He speaks pure Karimojong like them. He does not address them in public but he knows he has a great following there. The Upe Pokot support him and admire him.”[226]

During the research, it was found that campaigning by MPs and councillors across the international border was commonly believed to take place in advance of the elections. It was considered an ordinary practice that during their campaigning, they would hand out money or food and even alcohol. Someone said:“The MPs normally don’t show up in these areas. But before elections, they will visit the place. People just sit alongside the road, and the MP hands out money. People expect this from them.”[227]

A few months after my visit in 2007, the East African Standard (October 25, 2007) reports that in advance of the national elections of 2007, “politicians are known to provide relief rations at strategic positions near polling stations” to the Pokot of Kacheliba constituency, of whom “*only those with voter’s cards get the rations — on condition that they vote in a particular direction”.



6.6 Commercialization of livestock trade

Especially since the 1990s, increased commercialization of the livestock economy has opened up opportunities for commercially inspired raiding. Large traders have come up, who transport the cattle to other parts of Kenya.[228] It was assumed that these affluent individuals were involved in the conflict, not because they organize raiding parties, but because they buy and export raided livestock. Commercialization increases opportunities for raiding, mostly because livestock can be sold without difficulties as there are no security forces that inspect markets in the area. Zaal et al. (2006) have estimated that approximately 10,000 heads of cattle leave West-Pokot District each year for the Western Highlands and Nairobi, although they suppose this number is probably underestimated since much trade occurs outside official routes. They also assume a lot of the raided cattle end up in the market.

It was argued that because of increased opportunities for selling livestock, thieves from within the Pokot community stealing from fellow Pokot, came up, something that is considered a serious crime. The thieves may also be involved in trading networks that cross ethnic boundaries as a victim of the above stated:“My cows have been stolen now almost a month ago. Since then I have been looking for them. I know who did it; the man is a Pokot from around. I am planning to take him to the police, but first I have to speak to him and his relatives. I want to discuss the matter in the kokwo because I have to gather more witnesses. *…+ Those livestock- thieves among the Pokot, they started by stealing donkeys and camels, but nowadays they also steal cows. These people value money a lot and since they cannot fall back on the gold and ruby business [because most of that has disappeared in the area] they go stealing. *…+ When there was no peace yet, the thieves sold the cattle at Amudat or Orolwo. Now that there is peace with the Karimojong, the thieves sell the livestock in Karamoja. This makes it more difficult to trace stolen cattle. Cattle-thieves among the Karimojong and Pokot are friends. They help each other to find markets on the other side to sell the stolen cattle.”[229]

Zaal et al. (2006) furthermore give the example of lapai, the traditional fine for bloodshed, which is now often paid in cash of the proceeds of raided cattle. It is important to note that because stolen livestock is increasingly sold, raiding can easily be perceived as excessive, since it can be carried out independent of the availability of land or labour for livestock management and moreover as Krätli & Swift (2001:9) note, it “excludes reciprocity as marketed cattle cannot be raided back”.

It is frequently cited that the commercialization of livestock economy has led to the phenomenon of ‘warlords’ in the region (Ocan, 1994; Mirzeler & Young, 2000; Osamba, 2000; Mkutu, 2003). It must be said that there is confusion about what is meant by this term, which also appears in NGO reports[230] and the media[231]. The authors referred to here, generally see warlords as persons who aim for political as well as economic control, who are favoured by availability of guns, and who are often believed to be involved in livestock as well as arms trade. Some say they are connected to high government officials or the military. The major point however seems to be that the rise of these actors and their centralizing powers would undermine the traditional authority of the elders. For example Osamba (2000: 25) argues that warlords would have emerged among the Pokot and Turkana since the 1980s, and that these persons attracting young warriors to form private militias “have become the final authority on cattle relations” in the region, thereby “overriding the traditional powers of the elders”.

Conversely, during the research none of this could be confirmed. Respondents stated that there have always been certain senior warriors (Kawurok) that lead in raids because they are known for their military skills, and are thus occupied with the organization of warrior groups, especially in mass raids. These persons would be chosen by the kokwo because they had proven themselves to be brave and successful during previous raids.

Confusingly, when I brought up the term warlord, some of the respondents referred to these leading senior warriors, who have considerable status and are known in a wide region. However, it was said that these persons could not organize raids on their own as they would still need approval and blessings of older men in the community. Thus, the high degree of autonomous power to mobilize and organize raids by specific individuals as the term warlord suggests, was not argued for. Furthermore and more important, their authority was said to be diminishing, as increasingly raids were said to be carried out mostly by small groups of youngsters.


6.7 The gun symbolizing a rebellious youth

It is said that the traditional generational authority of the elders in the decision-making concerning raids had lessened, as increasingly the younger warriors were no longer following their advice. Compared to the warrior groups that were active in raiding before 1979, the more recent warrior groups tended to act differently. One elder respondent summed up some characteristics:“The Ngopotom and Ngisigira, [warrior groups that actively raided during the 1970s] are known for being organized, they organize themselves even when they were eating. They listened to the elders when they were going for raids, they don’t make a lot of noise [quarrel among themselves]. These people did not have the Kalashnikovs yet, only a few homemade guns that came from the Turkana. The appreciation of traditional culture among this group is still very strong. Besides, they don’t drink so much. *…+ The younger warrior groups are those such as the Ngidinkai [actively raiding since the late 1980s and 1990s]. These guys don’t listen to any advice. They are very aggressive. They are stubborn and they drink a lot. However, the Ngimunyongkwo [also known as Rumokorogh, starting to raid actively since 2000] is the worst group of all. They grew up with guns; they don’t know about traditional weapons, each boy should have a gun. Just like the Ngidinkai, they do many evil things. They don’t follow the clan marriage rules, even the girls [of that age]. The respect is gone. They can even shoot their fathers, if these don’t agree with the sons’ plans to marry. They are very dangerous because of the guns.”[232]

This quote points to the widely felt belief that the declining respect for the elders and for traditional Pokot culture is accompanied by the prevalence of guns. That youthful warriors feel attached to their guns was also found in a study carried out among 1,600 respondents of eight ethnic groups (including the Pokot) in Moroto and Kotido Districts of Uganda. Even though the majority of respondents favoured disarmament, “Most of the Karachunas [youthful warriors] (58%) are opposed to disarmament. They say the gun is their life. Government can remove all their animals, belongings, and even their wives but should leave their guns because with the gun, one can acquire any thing” (ADOL, 2000: 18).

That warriors feel attached to their weapons is nothing new, this has been the case with traditional weapons as well as the firearms that are used now. Yet, it is often argued that because of the guns, the conflict has become more destructive and violent in that casualties have increased. This is strongly contested by Eaton (2007), who argues that although the prevalence of guns among the Pokot have made raids more frequent, in fact, casualties have decreased. His respondents mentioned that unlike spears, guns are ‘noisy’ weapons, which allow people to escape faster as they are alarmed after the first shot has been fired.

Additionally, the prevalence of guns is often seen as something that has caused for a shift in political and economic authority away from the elders.

It was frequently mentioned that the young generation started marrying and raiding at an earlier age compared to past times. Before 1979, the age for a man’s first marriage would be around thirty, while currently a boy in his teens may already marry.[233] The younger age of men for marriage was often directly related to the gun culture as the above quote indicates. People argued that guns had made the young generation more violent, not only towards members of other ethnic groups, but also towards fellow Pokot, including their relatives. In their aim for independence, it was believed guns had made warriors act in more autonomous and violent ways. It was said the conflict was characterized by moral decline and traditional moral codes of conduct were no longer followed. For example, taboos in the past, such as the burning of houses or the deliberate killing of weaker persons (elderly, disabled, women and children), would nowadays take place.

I believe we must investigate the general perception of disorder in the community in the light of a wider context, namely the changing perception towards traditional culture and traditionally defined seniority. Then, the gun may rather be seen as a symbol not only of the fear of the elder generation to be out ruled by the younger generation, but moreover as apprehension of the rejection of traditional moral standards by the latter.

Most of the elderly people that were interviewed argued that the traditional culture was ‘eroding’, as customary codes of behaviour were less followed. The young rebellious generation, which does not respect the elders is generally referred to as ‘kakeriakech’, ‘the group that doesn’t care’. This group would not be concerned with customary rules, for example the marriage rules, which require the advice or blessing of the elders. As I mentioned before, respect to senior generation- or age-sets is considered one of the most important traditional values of the Pokot society, and bypassing this is considered as an offensive act. In addition, it was argued that nowadays there were more thieves (chelolos) among the Pokot. Because these youthful warriors would go out for minor thefts without the consent of the traditional blessing of the elders and specialists, they can easily break the peace and create cycles of violence, because entire ethnic groups may be held responsible and retaliated as a result.


6.8 ‘Development’ and cultural change

The generation conflict in the research area is complex and not merely attributable to a certain stereotyping by the elders, of a junior generation as out of hand in the process of establishing its reputation by turning its back to the senior generation, a phenomenon which may be of all times and places. How then do we explain the rejection of traditional moral standards by the younger generation and, perhaps more important, why is the older generation not able to restore their authority?

The position of the elders is at stake because they are confronted with ‘modern’ civilization and development thinking, which has brought new values to the area. Respondents attributed this most prominently to the influence of Christianity and formal education, repeatedly described as having a just about symbiotic relationship, given that the majority of schools in the research area are founded and sponsored by the churches. Christianity and formal education first entered West-Pokot District during the 1930s, when it was mostly located in the southern highlands. From the 1950s the influence was extended to the lowlands after the Dini ya Msambwa cult had alarmed the white settlers, and ‘cultural change’ was deemed necessary by them (Dietz, 1987).

The missions – most of them foreign funded and thus in a relatively good financial position compared to the government – have invested in a range of development activities, varying as wide as the distribution of relief food, the building of dispensaries, the provision of seeds to farmers, the construction of roads, and the drilling of boreholes. Dietz (1987: 207) notes that “missions can be regarded as semi-states”, because “the freedom of action is virtually unrestricted in practice”. Especially during the 1979-84 period, they were able to take a prominent position as relief agencies, resulting in the fact that many parents decided to send their children to school for food and protection.

Although missions disapprove some of the Pokot traditions, in order to clarify their message, some elements of Pokot culture may be intertwined with Christian customs.

The missions take an uncomfortable stance towards many of the Pokot traditions, although the approach varies per denomination, as the Protestants are stricter compared to the Catholics. In general, the missions express disapproval of cattle raiding, traditional initiation rites of boys and girls, the requesting of advice and blessings from traditional specialists (such as diviners, intestine interpreters and shoe-tossers), worshipping of ancestors, and the sacrificing of animals that is related to this. The Protestants require more changes as they may not approve with the wearing of the traditional Pokot adornment, and order for the complete withholding of the usage of alcohol. Besides, they are stricter on the point of monogamy.



An elder who went to the Catholic primary boarding school in Kacheliba in 1966, explains about the identity crisis that accompanied the introduction of formal education and Christianity:

“A cattle disease made my family move to the Cherangani in 1968; in the meantime I stayed at Kacheliba boarding school. In 1967, I was baptized all the way in Amudat. I was enrolled by my teacher. We went there with a large group of people. It was a routine by then; the catechists had it as a duty. At that time, I considered being baptized as a normal thing to do as a schoolchild. *…+ My parents, stayed in the village with their livestock, they were not Christians by then. The Church discouraged some Pokot traditions like polygamy, drinking liquor, and raiding. They also didn’t want their pupils to put the skin of an animal [which had been sacrificed for the blessing of the spirits] around the wrist. I remember that people from the village were complaining when I came home, especially about not wearing the animal skin around my wrist. It was not an easy time. People from the village were laughing at me; they despised me for wearing western clothes and having my hair shaped differently. *…+ For me it was easier to continue my education because I resided at the boarding school. I was not so much influenced by the life from the village. Nowadays people see the need to educate their children. *…+ People, even the elders, have realized that problems of livestock make it necessary to have just one wife. Elder people are not so tough on traditions anymore. They have benefited from education and religion. The older generation is gone now. Although the elders have left traditions themselves, they still find it unpleasant to adapt to the new situation.”[234]

Elders who are formally educated or Christianized are placed in a difficult position as they hinge between traditional and ‘modern’ forms of identity. On the one hand, they see the benefits of development in the area, and know that integrating in the modern system is needed to acquire positions of political authority. Many of the individuals that have undergone these changes are the ones in leadership positions (e.g. chiefs, teachers, religious leaders). They often regard themselves as role models, who are to convert the “traditional people” to the ideology of the nation state, so that the Pokot community comes out of marginalization. A teacher, who had been enrolled in a Catholic school during the early 1980s, stated about the position of his profession:

“We are the leadership generation. We have to bring the area up. We have to encourage the highly educated ones to stay in the area. Overall education is the means to get up.”[235]

The idea that education will put an end to raiding however, proves counterfeit. It was argued that many of the younger warriors were in fact dropouts, who had left school for various reasons such as feelings of indifference or difficulties paying fees.[236] Having had a background of education, leaves these young boys without the feeling of being rooted in traditional culture, and often without employment opportunities. As a teacher noted:“There is a hanging group of youth, who go for rustling and robberies in order to gain economically. Many parents have left their children at school, without giving them directions. They think they are in the right place, but the young children go to town and chew miraa, drink bear, and smoke cigarettes, while they claim to have gone for study.”[237]

The Kenyan national education system requires that pupils speak English (and otherwise Kiswahili) at school. This linguistic incorporation in the national state has implications for the way the Pokot language and identity is perceived by youngsters, and underscores a difference between those with and without education.
(September 2005)

Related to the declining authority of elders is the depreciation of the traditional age- set systems in the area. Although most missions regard male circumcision as a good thing as they argue that this is also preached in the bible, they prefer that the operation is carried out in a hospital, for hygienic reasons but moreover because during the seclusion period of traditional circumcision, the teachings were not considered proper. A pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church explained:“The church does not allow traditional circumcision in the bush. There they don’t care, there are no doctors there. Most of all, you learn how to beat and seduce a woman, how to fight. It makes you become abusive. You are reckless when you come out of there.”[238]

A pastor of the African Inland Church noted:“Traditional circumcision of boys in the bush is a bad thing. Some of the rituals and especially the singing and praising are regarded as appalling because they speak about the private parts.”[239]Because circumcision is practiced more and more in hospitals, it means that a large part of the new generation grows up without the traditional teachings (which emphasize a.o. the respect to the senior age-sets), and the social bonding between age-mates that is related to traditional circumcision.

Even though traditional circumcision still takes place, the elders complained that the proper naming of the age-sets gets lost as circumcision is done more frequently, and at a younger age. One elder noted that:“Nowadays boys are circumcised at a very young age, while in the past they used to circumcise only grown ups [later explained to be the minimum age of 17 years]. Now almost every year a new age-set is started. It causes a lot of confusion. Before it would take at least 8 years before they could start a new age-set. This is because of the influence of education. And because of the elders who are bending the rules of the tradition themselves.[240]

A similar decline of the sapana initiation rite is recognized among people who are formally educated and Christianized. An elder noted:“Less people do sapana. This causes a generation conflict. The ones that have done sapana are proud and feel complete. They view the ones who did not do sapana, as children – these persons are not allowed to sit in the kïrket, and they cannot eat specific parts of the meat. They may not speak inside the arena before the elders or officially open the girls who come out of circumcision. Their sons can never undergo sapana, it stops the chain. The ones that don’t do sapana are mainly the Protestants, because they see the practice as something pagan.”[241]

Leaving the traditions is not only due to that it is seen as ‘primitive’ or ‘pagan’, it is also caused by the idea that there is less need for it nowadays. Take for example the traditional function of the prophets. One respondent who had the skills to become a prophet, decided not to develop them with the encouragement of his parents:“My parents advised me to leave it, because they saw the life as a dreamer, as one that without a good future. People don’t rely on dreamers so much nowadays; it is only the pastoralists who do. Besides that, I wanted to get married, and I did not feel like living an isolated lifestyle. *…+ I chose to be a Christian. This means that the belief in Jesus displaces the traditional beliefs. There is only place for one in the heart, and that is Jesus now. *…+ Only the people along the border still visit the dreamers. This kind of tradition does not work anymore because the life of a dreamer does not stroke with the modern way of life. The forests are cleared, and what should the people ask for anyway? They don’t ask for rain because there is relief food. Along the Suam River people can still survive. The area is no longer isolated. In the past [when the community was still isolated], each community was given specific powers through certain people to protect itself. Nowadays people rely on other means of protection.”

Monetarization has moreover led to a disrespect of tradition, as it makes room for individual gain. This occurs not only among the youthful warriors as I explained before, but also among the specialists of the community. The respondent continues:“The respect of the specialists in the Pokot community diminishes, because nowadays those people just want to become rich. They began to commercialize after the harsh years in the early 1980s. *…+ Nowadays, they invite clans, instead of being asked by a clan. They have become arrogant. The alcohol and money has spoiled hem. They make advantage of their position. A real prophet does not admire the commercialization of his skills. *…+ These days they commercialize, which also makes their skills fail. They like conflict too much. Nothing good comes out of them. The good spirit no longer communicates with them.[242]

Furthermore, it is often stated that the position of the elders and the effectiveness of the traditional methods of conflict resolution, are affected by the influence of the formal law system (e.g. Masinde et al., 2004, UNDP, 2004). However, it must firstly be noted that a large part of the research area lacks strong influence of the formal law system. In the western lowlands, the last police station on the Kenyan side can be found in Kacheliba. The physical distance to the court which is situated in Kapenguria, prevents people from the areas of Sekerr, Sook, Alale and Kasei to take their cases there. In these areas, cases are still sorted out by the elders, who together with the chiefs, discuss the issues within the kokwo. Formal law administrators still rely for a great part on the consultation of the elders, for example about their historical knowledge concerning land demarcations or clan conflicts. Besides that, village elders are appointed to support the assistant chiefs with their duties.

Even though the traditional methods of conflict resolution such as lapai and muma are allowed by the formal court, and they are still seen as powerful means for punishment, there are changes in the way it is carried out nowadays.[243] Firstly, there is the belief that monetarization has made lapai an opportunity to gain individually. The destruction of property is an inherent element of lapai, and is seen as an act of grievance, however:“Nowadays there is mass looting. People take more than the discussed amount of cows. Whole clans are involved. People are hired to do the looting, they don’t discuss with the elders. In the past the practice was not carried out in such a savage way; a few cows were stolen, there was a bit of looting in only one or two houses, then they would sit down with the elders and discuss about the new payment and the cleansing. Nowadays, the cleansing may even take up to ten years. Since the 1980s, money value has accelerated the looting. Besides that, people are also desperate because of poverty.”[244]

Secondly, people who are influenced by modern values may regard the methods as outdated and uncivilized, because as lapai and muma are believed to affect all clan members, which involves many innocent people. One respondent stated:“people still fear muma, because many innocent people are doomed. Because of the terrible consequences, it is not so much encouraged anymore.”

Lastly, I would like to mention that an important incentive to the general perception of disorder is the large-scale consumption of home-brewed alcohol (local brews known as ‘busaa, ‘changaa’, and ‘mandule’) by both youngsters and elders. Initially introduced to the research area by non-Pokot immigrants (most notably the Bukusu and Bagishu Luhya), the spirits are now also brewed by Pokot, and for women it is increasingly becoming an additional source of income. Whereas traditional alcohol in the form of honey beer has always been consumed, in the past it was mainly associated with ceremonies or used as payment. Beech (1911: 12) already noted that “*honey+ wine is drunk by old men chiefly as a means of stimulating their memories prior to discussion of folklore”. Nowadays, many people drink daily, and besides the fact that it aggravates poverty, it makes people act less responsibly. One respondent who really felt alcohol was the major problem in the area noted: “These drinks, they spoil the people. Pokot drink just to get drunk. They consume as much as they can, until they finally black out. It is a shame. People become lazy and they just hang around. They do not care anymore. Women are becoming prostitutes and young men become thugs. The old people cannot tell you anymore about the past. I tell them to stop drinking, but what can you do? These people are addicted and we need serious help to fight this problem.”[245]


6.9 People from the bush

The extent to which development activities and modern values have entered the research area, is geographically defined, generally meaning: the better accessible by roads, the more influence. The areas where people live a sedentary and agricultural lifestyle, especially the southern Highlands, are more involved in the changes towards new forms of identity. As can be seen in the quotes from interviews above, distinctions are made between people from ‘town’, and people from the ‘bush’ or the ‘village’.[246] A discourse of modernization is thereby internalized, by referring to the mobile pastoralists, not only as traditional but even by some as ‘uncivilized’ or ‘backward’.

This ideology originates from the early colonial times, when “progress was to come from the Hill Suk” (Visser, 1989, 34). The colonialists put emphasis on agriculture, although they found it hard to convince the Pokot to change their lifestyle to a more agricultural one. The Pokot were therefore often considered as ‘conservative people’, who were ‘resistant to change’ (Schneider, 1959; Patterson, 1969).

However, during the last three decades, agriculture and a sedentary lifestyle have gained influence. This change was forced by the 1979-84 period, when a lot of people had to look for other than subsistence pastoralism means for survival. The exodus south made that many former pastoralists started farming either on their own plot or as casual workers. The latter was especially the case in the southern highlands of Mnagei and Trans-Nzoia, where the lowland refugees came into contact with people of other ethnic groups, and a larger degree of development thinking. Many Pokot who had been formerly pastoralists, “actually learned that you could eat rubbish” during this period, referring to the consumption of grains without milk, as one respondent noted.[247]

Moreover the cash economy that was fuelled by the mining of minerals, brought changes, as a woman noted:“In the past we knew only one thing; the cow. We were totally depending on the products of the livestock. Now as a mother, you can struggle to survive in other ways by doing little business, even selling some of your hens. It helps now there is money you can do more things.”[248]

Increased monetarization may also bring opportunities for former warriors to engage in other than raiding activities. The warriors who decided so, are also known as ‘reformed warriors’. One respondent explained:“At the end of the 90s some warriors decided to give up raiding and do business. The abandoning of raiding by some warriors was due to their appreciation of the money economy and the panning of minerals. They realized that when you have money it is the same as having cattle, and you can dig the ground instead of risking your life by going for raids. Nowadays there are many livestock traders. Many of them were raiders, but they started valuing the money economy.”[249]

The changes towards a sedentary lifestyle were also met with ambiguity as expressed by a hoteli owner in Kacheliba, who migrated to the town in 1982, after severe loss of livestock. “I liked my life as a pastoralist very much, even though there were hard times, such as the dry season of 1965, when there was a severe cattle disease. However, in the past life was not so complicated. The animals provided everything that was needed: milk, meat and skins. The move from the village to town, was beneficial in some ways. There were better hygienic conditions. I built a decent hut and a pit latrine. Also, I am now able to plan for my family, instead of constantly being on the move. On the other hand there is this difficulty that so many needs cannot be met nowadays. Everything costs money and there is no proper source of income. In the past animals were used to buy everything. People were more independent then.[250]

The benefits of modern life, wherein money, education, and new religious stances are valued, has the consequence that for some people, the traditional superior lifestyle of subsistence pastoralism is not per se regarded as ideal anymore. This has caused for a peculiar relationship between the Pokot from the highlands and the lowlands. On the one hand the pastoralists are still very much admired for their wealth in livestock, and their tough spirit and means to protect the Pokot community. A teacher remarkably told that:“The pastoralists are generally believed to be sharper and wiser than the farmers. Even today, they [the children from the pastoralists] lead in class. The pastoralists are able to protect the community. When they campaign for parliamentary seats, the farmer has a hard time proving that he is capable of leading. In times of war the pastoralists are leading.[251]

On the other hand, people who have undergone the changes of modern civilization and development thinking start to disassociate with some of the practices of pastoralists. People complain that the raiding puts the Pokot community in a bad daylight and the media stereotyped the community as hostile. A grains salesmen from Chepareria explained:“For example in the war with the Marakwet, the pastoralists from the lowland came to rescue the farmers from the highland. The pastoralists were camping in the highland, spying and fighting from there. They were the militia with skilled war techniques. […] We tell them that they should stop raiding, because it gives the Pokot a bad name, it presents a poor picture. People elsewhere are afraid of the Pokot. When our clansmen come to our houses and we chat with them, we talk to them politely, not teaching them, otherwise they will see you as a coward. *…+ One time the lowland Pokot and hired Kadamas [Tepeth] raided the Sengwer, as a result some Pokot were left injured in the forest. The people from Chepareria reported this to the government. Because of that the Kasauria were angry, they wanted to sort this out by themselves. They wanted to pick the injured themselves.”[252]

The different response to the raiding conflict between pastoralists and the sedentary people who have been influenced by modern values, is also altering the scope of identification with the adopted culture of the Karimojong. On the one hand people state that:“Although the enmity has been worsening, the Pokot have never rejected any of the Karimojong cultural practices. These practices, like sapana, have entered the Pokot culture long ago and are now part of it.”[253]

On the other hand a rejection of the practices is also prominent, especially by the town communities, who no longer see the need to adopt the characteristics. Unlike in the past when adoption was stimulated so the pastoral Pokot could gain social standing in Karimojong community, to ensure grazing rights and stock friends, nowadays people who have other than pastoral means of survival ask themselves “Now there is more hatred, why should we associate with an element of an enemy? ”[254] Another respondent believed that because of continued conflict since the 1980s:“The new generation is giving their children Pokot names, instead of Karimojong names. This happens especially among the educated ones, who are proud to use the Pokot names and saying: Why should we borrow the culture of an enemy tribe?”[255]

A larger sense of ‘Pokotness’ has been reinforced through the ethnic politics that have become ever more popular since independence. The pride of indigenous Pokot practices has also led to increased importance of the practice of circumcision. It was already believed by Peristiany (1951a, 05) that,“circumcision will be attended by a larger number. This is due to the ‘increasing pride of race’, of Pokot who, having now spread over a much greater area than they occupied before, feel that their increase of cattle and land entitles them to treat their pastoral neighbours on an equal footing”.

Although sapana is still the major rite of initiation for the pastoral Pokot men, and most men still refrain from circumcision along the borders because of security reasons, an increased number of pastoralists are choose to be circumcised as well. When asking why, someone replied: “Because when you are among those other Pokot, you’re the same”, referring to the need to be equally respected by other circumcised Pokot.[256]


6.10 Conclusion

Which new identity strategies among the Pokot can be recognized because of the changing scope of the raiding conflict and increased external interventions during the last three decades?

This chapter first of all described that the tradition of raiding is still very much persistent in the research area, although in a new reality. From an historical perspective, the promotion of militarization among the Pokot, is mostly associated with the pastoral section of the community. The raiding conflict of today is still motivated by the customary objectives of warriors to increase their independence and to establish their reputation by showing bravery, whereby women can have an important supportive influence.

The new reality in which raids are nowadays carried out is characterized by the context of ‘depastoralisation’ that spurred after a sequence of crises since the year 1979. The decreasing herd sizes made that raiding has been regarded as ‘excessive’. With that, livestock markets, which are hardly checked, provide an infrastructure through which raided cattle can be sold, and thereby exclude the area of traditional reciprocity mechanisms.

Even though the use of automatic weapons cannot be considered as the root cause of the raiding problem, the usual approach to cease raiding by the state is through disarmament. Disturbing operations in the past have resulted in a great loss of faith in disarmament and the government in general, which is seen as just another enemy. The Pokot feel they need weapons to defend themselves, as the government is not providing security, not even to those people who are employed by it, such as chiefs. Security forces are hardly present in the area, and even though at times they may be feared, in general, there is a lack of respect towards them. This calls for a situation wherein effective army forces are installed, which are able to recover stolen livestock, and put an end to bribery. Disarmament initiatives must furthermore be linked to the provision of adequate infrastructure and alternative livelihood opportunities, and must also be carried out symmetrically.

The government legitimacy will be assisted by investing in pastoralism, for example through veterinary services or the improvement of breeds, instead of undermining this lifestyle. However, as Osamba (2000: 34) argues, because of a harsh environment and high value for livestock:

“The state’s opinion, therefore, is that the pastoral society is conservative, slow to adapt to change and in many respects actually against change. Raiding is therefore portrayed as a factor that is embedded in the pastoralists’ mentality and that can only be eradicated by the discontinuation of pastoralism and the adoption of agriculture, or by transforming it into ranching.”

The feeling among the Pokot of being deliberately marginalized is taken on by politicians who can inflame conflict against other communities, by emphasizing ethnic distinctiveness of the group they represent. This means that violence, based on primordial attachments against (often innocent) ‘others’, is even more provoked compared to the past. It is important to realize that entire ethnic groups are often held responsible for raids that have been caused by only a few individuals. The raids and incitements of politicians, may so foster cycles of violence.

The conflict itself is believed to be affected by a disorder within the Pokot community, which centers on the idea that the authority of the elders is no longer effective in managing the conflict. The young generation was said to be no longer respecting them and tended to act in more autonomous ways. Furthermore, the relationship between the Pokot and other ethnic groups is perceived as having been gravely deteriorated due to excessive violence and a greater amount of mistrust. Respondents argued that this resulted in increased breakings of peace pacts and less contacts between ethnic groups. Although these changes were often directly attributed to the gun culture, I have argued that the gun might rather be seen as a symbol by which the elders depict a rebellious youth. That the young generation is rejecting some of the traditional moral standards as well as the feeling that the older generation does not seem able to restore their authority, should be seen in the light of the wider opening up of the research area.

Since the 1970s, increased development activities (most importantly the increased outreach of formal education and Christianity), have brought new values to the research area. These ‘modern’ values have affected the traditional political egalitarian authority of the elders, as it has internally fractioned the elders as a group. Together with the misuse of alcohol, the picture holds that elders are rather passive about tradition themselves. Even though the traditional methods of intra-ethnic conflict resolution – such as lapai and muma – are still believed to be very effective and even respected by the formal court system, they are also increasingly seen as outdated by people who are influenced by modern values, because of the harm it causes towards many innocent people.

Altogether, the context of ‘depastoralisation’ and modernization, have altered the perspective towards Pokot traditions. The attitude towards the traditions of pastoralism, raiding, and customary rules, may be termed as ambivalent. On the one hand, the Pokot still value livestock rearing as the ideal livelihood, praise the courage of warriors who are able to protect the community, and even fear the customary rules which are seen as effective intra- ethnic control mechanisms. On the other hand, the changing situation has brought opportunities for some people, who may therefore choose to adopt new identity strategies and reject some of the traditional values.

Because the developmental activities are geographically defined, mostly centered on the agricultural (southern) highlands and the more accessible parts of the lowlands (the towns), the sedentary Pokot are influenced most by the modern values. This has led to an ideological separation within the Pokot community, whereby the sedentary people are referring to the practices of the more traditional pastoral Pokot as backward. This ideology, which originates from the early colonial times, has thus been internalized by this section of the Pokot. This changed perception can be explained by the fact that for the sedentary people it is now more beneficial to identify with modern values. It provides them access to alternative livelihoods and new leadership positions.

The rejection of Karimojong cultural characteristics by many of the sedentary people, and the increased importance of circumcision among the pastoralists of the lowlands, can also be seen in this light. During the 19th century, when the adoption of sapana was stimulated, it had been advantageous for the pastoral Pokot to define a wider identity. Nowadays there is simply less need to for the sedentary people to identify with these practices, as for them it does not provide security or a stable resource base, like it did for the pastoral Pokot during the 1870s.

Instead, the sense of Pokotness has been emphasized over the years, not only through their territorial expansion and formal recognition of their territory during the 19th and 20th century, but moreover because of the incorporation into national state systems. As said before, the government spurred the feeling of marginalization amongst the Pokot, something that is deliberately addressed by politicians, who are interested in securing their own critical resource, namely the electorate.

[180] I use the term livestock raiding because even though raids are still mainly targeted at the rustling of cattle, in more recent years other livestock, most significantly camels, have become an important target as well.

[181] Dietz (1987: 188) notes: “For the administration it has always been a clear policy goal to end all raiding. When they did not succeed, responsible officers often felt embarrassed and in some cases reacted with an overdose of force”.


[182] The authors do not make clear on which sources their estimation is based. Most probably, they have looked into files of the police and the local administration. Therefore, the actual number of stolen livestock, deaths and injured persons may be considered higher as figured here, because by far not all raids are reported in the official records.

[183] Although Pkalya et al. (2003) are not specific about the period covering their estimation, in another report by these same authors (Adan & Pkalya, 2005) these figures are put as the cumulative of the period of 1994-2004. Again, it must be said that it is not clear on which sources this figure is based. The statistics are put here merely to show that displacement is a major negative consequence of the raiding conflict.

[184] The chapter focuses mainly on the conflict between the Pokot and the Karimojong as this was most apparent to the majority of the respondents. (For a specified overview in the period between 1900-1987 see Dietz, 1987: 124-125, 177-178, 189.)

[185] Many respondents referred to the Pokot therefore also as ‘the Israelis’, something which can probably be attributed to the influence of Christianity in the area.

[186] During the 19th century the Pokot were under heavy attack by the Nandi, who were notorious for their skilled military organization. In addition, the Nandi warriors, being led by their prophets, were able to strongly resist the establishment of colonial rule (e.g. Matson, 1972).

[187] In addition, Bollig argues that the eastern Pokot were superior to the Maasai because of their specific weaponry and fighting strategies. The Pokot were advanced because they fought from a certain distance by throwing spears and shooting (sometimes poisoned) arrows, whereas the Maasai used stabbing spears that required close combat. For the western Pokot this difference is not relevant as the main enemies on this side, the Karimojong and Turkana, both used the same weaponry as them.

[188] In order to signify that a warrior has killed a male enemy in a fight, the suffixes –tum or –le may be added to his name (for example, Lobongo-tum or Lomirio-le). Furthermore, the shoulders of Pokot warriors are traditionally scarred after killing enemies. The bleeding, which comes with placing these marks, was said to be part of the cleansing process that warriors traditionally undergo after they have killed an enemy. Visser (1989: 198) states that purification, which includes “seclusion in the bush”, is needed because killing an enemy is “a delicate affair which invites revenge from the enemy by any means, especially through curses”. In addition, sisters of warriors were also said to put scarring marks on their bodies so as to praise the strength and courage of their brothers in the fights.

[189] Because familial ties may cross ethnic boundaries (as I pointed out in chapter 4 inter-ethnic clan networks do exist), it is possible for warriors to kill relatives during raids. A frequently stated example was that during the clashes of the 1990s with the Marakwet, with whom the Pokot are closely related, a boy went to raid and came back crying after he realized that he had killed a relative in the fight.

[190] Interview: CHEP-19.

[191] Some argued the practice was copied from the Turkana, a community that was often characterized as ‘less ethical’ than the Pokot. In Kiwawa, it was said that specifically the suffix –moi could be added to the name of a warrior (for example, Yaupa-moi), so as to show that he had killed a woman in a raid. Furthermore, scars on the left shoulders of warriors were also said to refer to the killing of female enemies, whereas marks on the right shoulders would refer to the killing of male enemies.

[192] Interview: KIWA-5.

[193] The same reasoning is put forward by Cappon (2003), who blames natural resource scarcity as a principal cause for the conflicts between the Pokot and Marakwet during the late 1990s-2002.

[194] Furthermore, Adano & Witsenburg (2004) found similar results for the area of Marsabit District, where people effectively limited conflict during times of drought, and raids usually tended to take place during the rainy seasons.

[195] Even though Eaton (2007) believes that for some people poverty may be the motivation behind raiding, he puts this idea to the test as during his research he found that most of the raiders in fact were not poor at all.

[196] The werkoy are termed prophets because it is believed that they receive their foreseeing powers from God. There are other ritual specialists in the Pokot community that may be advised upon in advance of raids (and other concerns), most notably the ritual experts (kapolok), intestine readers (kipkwan), and shoe-throwers (kipkwegh). I focus here on the werkoy because, compared to the others, their powers are considered to be strongest. Besides this, they form an important part of the social organization of the community, as they usually preside over larger areas. Often a large number of sub-clan members inherit the gift of foreseeing, however there is usually a (male) person that has the strongest foreseeing powers, and who therefore dominates in a certain area. This prophet, who usually lives an isolated lifestyle, has informants that pass his visions to the community. The dominance of a certain prophet in an area, often involves a power struggle. It was said that the other less strong werkoy should ideally inform the main werkoyon about their visions. Peristiany (1975: 211) notes about this: “The emergence of a great prophet casts its shadow on the fame of minor prophets practising in his territory so that the major prophet dealt increasingly with matters of public concern while the minor prophets sank to the role of private practitioners”.

[197] Interview AMAK-5.

[198] Interview KODI-2.

[199] Bollig (2006) also found that the relation between the Eastern Pokot and the Turkana had become strained due to increasing violence over the last three decades. He mentions that because of insecurity, both groups lived about 100 kilometres away from each other and profoundly less interethnic marriages took place.

[200] The chronological overview largely depends on the information from Dietz (1987) and Andiema et al. (2002, 2003), sources which were used during the interviews.

[201] Dietz (1993) explains that the degree of pastoralism in the research area had lessened until 1979 because of strong population increase attributable to improved medical conditions over the years. All this, “despite the fact that the number of animals had probably increased by more than 60 percent since the 1920s”.

[202] Zaal & Dietz (1999) have shown that the number of Tropical Livestock Units (TLU) per capita decreased strongly during the last century. (1 TLU = 1.42 head of cattle/ ten hair sheep or goats/ one camel; whereby a absolute minimum of 3 TLU is required for strict pastoral survival in terms of food needs, not taking into account livestock requirements needed to support a local network.) The figure for the whole of West-Pokot District stood between 4-7 TLU/cap in 1926, and dropped to between 3 and 4 TLU/cap from the 1920s until the 1950s. In 1983, the figure had dramatically fallen to 0.5 TLU/cap, and the year 1987 gave only a slightly better figure of between 0.6 and 0.7 TLU/cap. At the time of writing (1999), they estimated that people in the western lowlands still only had 1.3 TLU/cap.

[203] Interview: KACH-8.

[204] See Dietz (1987) for extensive information about changing survival strategies since the beginning of the 1980s.


[205] It was said that the Pokot did not revenge the brutal attack of the Karimojong, and therefore received some sympathy of the government: “We were even given some cattle”. Interview: KIWA-7.

[206] Interview: KACH-4.

[207] Mkutu (2003) argues that the Pokot already acquired homemade guns from the Luhya in the late 1950s.

[208] Gun culture is defined by Krätli & Swift (2001: 8) as “the replacement of traditional weapons such as spears, bows and arrows with the gun to pursue the goals initially sought through the traditional weapons”.

[209] A study funded by the UN indicated the lack of control of home guards in the North Rift region: “there are relatively few functioning accountability mechanism to ensure that arms are used for “self-protection”, it is difficult, if impossible to know with certainty whether spent ammunitions are used against cattle rustlers, bandits, innocent civilians or UN staff” (Muggah & Berman, 2001: 66).

[210] Mkutu (2003: 14) also found that LDUs and KPRs along the Kenya-Uganda border region “sometimes misuse their arms – for example, by selling or bartering them – and there have been cases of banditry and participation in cattle raiding activities”. (see also New Vison, February 3, 2003)

[211] Mkutu (2003) mentions that twelve operations have been carried out by the Kenyan army targeted at the Pokot in the period 1979-2003. The operation of 2005 would then form the 13th.

[212] As an indication, a UPDF officer recently accused Kenyan Pokot “of crossing into Uganda, where they rustle cattle and stage ambushes”, while on the other hand UPDF forces themselves are also blamed for raiding on the Kenyan side (New Vision, July 25, 2007). Concerning the latter, church leaders from the Kenyan side mentioned that “hundreds of people displaced by the UPDF raids are said to be starving”

[213] The operation of 1984 is locally known by Pokot as ‘Lotiriri’, which refers to the noise of the helicopter.

[214] Interview: KACH-10. It is to be noted that the statement was made by a former (Pokot) Administrative Police officer, thus someone who had been employed by the District Commissioner to provide local security himself.

[215] A soldier of the Kenyan army stated: “Their military strategy is very sophisticated. The Pokot are smart fighters. They form one line up when approaching the enemy, this way you think that they all have guns, but actually there are only a few who have. They are highly organized. There are the young boys, who take away the cattle, there is a group that stays behind in enemy territory, and there is a group who awaits the returnees. After the raids it is difficult to track them because they divert.” Interview: MAKU-12.

[216] Interview: KIWA-10.

[217] That hostility flared up again between the two communities in the 1950s might possibly be attributed to the withdrawal of security forces from the area because attention was directed towards a new threat of the religious and anti-colonial Dini ya Msambwa cult, and moreover towards confronting the Mau-Mau rebellion in central Kenya.

[218] At the beginning of the colonial era, the administration headed in the research area by District Commissioner Crampton, or Krimpti as the Pokot still recall him, was even seen as partly supporting the Pokot compared to the surrounding ethnic groups. Even though the Pokot strongly resented the enforced movement out of Trans-Nzoia, they were able to expand westwards as Crampton supported the Pokot claims on this territory contrary to those of the Karimojong (Barber, 1968). Besides this, the Pokot were favoured in their westward expansion by the Ugandan administration, as they wanted to avoid trouble with the Kenyan government (Dietz, 1987, referring to Cox, 1972). Furthermore, Crampton was credited because he protected the Pokot from the Turkana by carrying out several punitive expeditions against the latter, and compensating the Pokot with raided livestock as payment for their service as levies (Lamphear, 1992). Visser (1989: 33) states that the Pokot refer to Crampton therefore as “their champion”.

[219] Interestingly, some respondents reasoned that president Moi targeted the Pokot by severe disarmament operations because of earlier clashes between the eastern Pokot and the Tugen during the early 20th century. It was said that after the Eastern Pokot and Tugen had made a peace pact, the Pokot broke the peace and the grandfather of Moi would have been killed in the clashes that followed. Interviews: CHEP-4,-6,-17; KACH-10.

[220] During the research period, the DC therefore fired a large number of chiefs and sub-chiefs.

[221] Interview: CHEP-6.

[222] Kamenju et al. (2003), describe the same dilemma for Marakwet chiefs, who themselves became “victims of insecurity”.

[223] For instance, Mr. Pogishio, MP of Kacheliba constituency, stated during the National constitution-writing process that: “Getting Kacheliba put on the record as an area deserving special affirmative action and having the Pokot included among those who suffered historical injustices are what this new Constitution is all about for me” (Daily nation, August 15, 2003).

[224] These matters have also brought forward political activists appealing for the Pokot case (e.g. Moroto et al., 2002). One of them explained that the Pokot armed themselves because they were “simply seeking remedies for the historical injustices that saw us lose large tracts of arable land over the years” (East African Standard, December 16, 2002).

[225] For example in 1998, some Marakwet KANU leaders felt Lotodo “should have been arrested over his statement that the anti-rustling military operation ordered by President Moi would fail unless 400 animals stolen by the Marakwet from the Pokot were returned” (Daily Nation, May 20, 1998).

[226] Interview: KAPE-6.

[227] Interview: KIWA-4.

[228] Zaal & Dietz (1999) have shown that the ‘caloric terms of trade’ became more positive for pastoralists in the research area during the 20th century, thus making it increasingly favourable for them to sell their animals in return for grains, especially when they trade for maize (compared to millet). However, they remark that the market-based form of food security is affected because cereals are increasingly sold to the urban markets, instead of the pastoral lowlands, and liberalization since the 1990s may cause for sharp price fluctuations.

[229] Interview: AMAK-4.

[230] For example, Waithaka (2001: 15) of the Peace and Development Foundation, mentions that in the research area “warlords sponsor raids to enrich themselves and to gain political control of the area”. Furthermore, the Norwegian Church Aid that carried out a field assessment on small arms and development in West-Pokot, uses the term ‘warlords’ for ‘kraal elders’ (NCA, 2006).

[231] The media seems to emphasize the political aspects. Such as the Daily Nation that stated that critics of former Minister Lotodo would say that he “was a tribal warlord, forever bent on fanning hostility against his community’s neighbours” (November 18, 2000), or that typifies the North Rift, as a region “where warlords are often handsomely rewarded by voters” (August 15, 2003).

[232] Interview: AMAK-4. The names of these warrior groups (which are not analogous to the names of age- or generation- sets), were mostly identified in northern Pokot, Alale Division, and as such they may not be recognized as such in other parts of the research area. However, the problems associated with the younger warriors were commonly acknowledged.

[233] For girls, this age dropped to their teens too. It was said that this change had set in during the

harsh 1979-1984 years when, because of a severe shortage of livestock, dowry payments had to be postponed, and daughters were given out at a younger age in the hope that the husband and his relatives could take care of the girl. Furthermore, some respondents argued that the early age of marriage for girls had also set in because parents experienced the ongoing flux of development activities as a threat to their traditional sources of identities. Development agencies strongly campaign against female circumcision, a rite that is a prerequisite to marriage in traditional Pokot culture, especially among the highland Pokot. As a reaction to the campaigning, parents decided to circumcise their daughters and give them out for marriage at an earlier age.

[234] Interview: KACH-5

[235] Interview: MAKU-4

[236] Markakis (2004: 26) states: “An increase in raiding incidents during school holidays in western Pokot is attributed to secondary school student involvement in raids to raise money for school fees and other expenses”, although it must be said that he does not specify the source of his information.

[237] Interview: CHEP-14.

[238] Interview: CHEP-3.

[239] Interview: AMAK-9.

[240] Interview: KACH-12.

[241] Interview: KONY-2.

[242] Interview: KACH-15.

[243] Officially, in order to carry out muma, one has to obtain a permit of the District Commissioner’s office. Interview: KAPE- 11.

[244] Interview: KAPE-9.

[245] Interview: KACH-20.

[246] Additionally, traditional pastoralists were also referred to as people from the “reserve” or “interior”.

[247] Interview: KONY-5.

[248] Interview: AMAK-9.

[249] Interview: KONY-8.

[250] Interview: KACH-14.

[251] Interview: CHEP-17.

[252] Interview: CHEP-9.

[253] Interview: KOD-2.

[254] Interview: AMAK-5.

[255] Interview: KONY-2.

[256] Interview: KONY-2.

[257] Markakis (2004: 26) states: “An increase in raiding incidents during school holidays in western Pokot is attributed to secondary school student involvement in raids to raise money for school fees and other expenses”, although it must be said that he does not specify the source of his information.

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