KIGALI, Rwanda, Nov 18- Have you ever wondered why cattle rustling is rampant in Northern Kenya? Or why the rustlers are never apprehended even after killing some of their victims?
Did you also know that some of the ‘nyama choma’ or ‘boilo’ that you eat at your favourite eatery or butchery comes from those animals?
Well, that is because there are people who are using such situations, tragic as they may be, to benefit themselves economically.
A Conflict Early Warning Expert at the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) Secretariat Elizabeth Mutunga says such ‘war economies’ thrive because the rustlers work in cohorts with the conflict entrepreneurs who are able to find markets for the goods or services provided.
“When you think about the cattle rustling, you think about these people who steal cattle from each other for bride price and things like that. But we have discovered that they are huge markets in Nairobi (for the meat) and they are barons who network with these rustlers to get free cattle, drive them to Nairobi and sell them,” she says.
These entrepreneurs also pay rustlers to cause chaos which guarantees them of their share of wealth when such conflicts occur.
Joseph Njoroge a butcher at Burma Market which is very popular for nyama choma (barbecued meat) says they are rarely concerned with the origin of the carcass.
“As long as the meat we are selling to our customer has been inspected by veterinary officers to make sure that they are fit for human consumption, then we don’t bother to know where the cattle came from,” he told Capital Business in a matter of fact way.
This goes to show that as long as there are people out there who eke a living from such trades will continue unabated until drastic actions are taken to curb them.
The cattle rustling incident is just one aspect of war economies that take place in the region. Another part is the never-ending Great Lakes region dispute.
“That conflict could have ended a long time ago but there are so many people who are interested in the mineral resources of the DRC at the expense of the country,” Ms Mutunga says.
This is what drove COMESA to seriously start looking at this concept.
Preliminary studies, she says have shown that more often than not these barons have the backing of powerful people in the governments they operate in which gives them the courage and protection to go ahead and plunder the resources and continue with their illegal trade.
“Some of the money gained from such activities is used to enrich themselves and some of it is used to continue to fight their cause,” Ms Mutunga adds.
Unfortunately, once the war economy is entrenched in a society, it becomes so hard to dismantle the activities primarily because some people in the society derive their livelihoods from such activities.
However, COMESA says it’s determined to deal with this issue which if left unchecked could further derail the regional integration process.
Ms Mutunga says they are going to undertake a study to establish the nature and extent of the war economies within the COMESA region.
The survey, she says, will seek to understand why some countries are more prone to war economies and it will involve looking at the legal frameworks of different countries and looking into ways of either strengthening or enforcing them, she added.
It will also look-at the structural factors or the susceptibility of a country that is not currently in conflict by for example determining how quickly or easily it would take for war economies to be entrenched in the economy.
“It will seek to unravel other aspects of war economies that we don’t even know about and bring them to the open,” she says.
Is it also going to look at how much the region has lost or will continue to lose in monetary terms if such activities continue?
“We have attempted to do a research on the cost of conflict on the COMESA region but in this case we decided to first of all develop an objective methodology that is adopted by everybody so that people will not doubt the figures that such a survey would reveal,” she explains.
She has appealed to individual member states to open up to the team that will be undertaking this research by giving helpful information and also cooperate with them as they are advocating for the strategies that the study will recommend.
The study will be commissioned early last year and it might take about six months to come up with a draft document.
Once completed, Ms Mutunga says they will be looking at harmonizing the laws so that the whole region can benefit by sealing loopholes that are used by smugglers or the ‘peace spoilers’.
Ms Mutunga says they will also present before member states the initial findings of another COMESA-commissioned study on the legal framework which faulted the World Bank’s strategies on the region.
The research found that some of these policies have eroded the states’ capacity to take decisive action on these activities or in natural resource exploitation.
The report however recommends the unpacking of these strategies, the development of a critical mass of negotiators of mining contracts. This will be presented to the member states for validation, she adds.