Guns and Governance in the Rift Valley: Pastoralist Conflict and Small Arms

In This Review

Guns and Governance in the Rift Valley: Pastoralist Conflict and Small Arms
By Kennedy Agade Mkutu
Indiana University Press, 2008
200 pp. $22.95
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In the dry and barren border region of northeastern Uganda and northwestern Kenya, pastoralist groups have traditionally engaged in cattle raiding, in which some young men from one area rustle cattle from a neighboring group. Partly an initiation ritual and partly a mechanism for economic redistribution in a region prone to drought and poverty, these practices were long circumscribed by traditional modes of tribal governance that limited their scope (although it would be naive to romanticize violent practices that inevitably undermined local welfare). In this stimulating book, Mkutu analyzes the destructive impact of modernization on this cattle-raiding tradition. He shows how ecological degradation and growing population pressures have increased the economic strains on these groups, at the same time as small arms have become widely available to them thanks to the various conflicts that have broken out in northeastern Africa over the course of the last quarter century. (An AK-47 that used to cost several dozen cows is now readily available for somewhere between one and five cows.) A veritable arms race has resulted between ethnic groups in the region, and the level of violence has increased dramatically, with hundreds of deaths a year. Government incompetence, corruption, and wrong-headed policies have worsened the situation, as has the entry of organized criminal groups that engage in commercial cattle raiding, a gross distortion of the traditional practice. Mkutu's account provides a fascinating empirical analysis of the dysfunctional nature of modernization.