African Voices: Confessions from a cattle raider

This post by Agiroi Thomas was kindly provided by Restless Development

In my culture, cattle are very important. They can be used for food, trading, as a dowry or as a status symbol. My life and that of my family is dependent on cattle. As this is the case it is common for clans to raid each other’s lands and steal cattle. I became involved in this when I was younger with a few of my friends. We were young men who wanted to get married and needed cattle to pay the dowry and we knew there were people in our village that had become rich from such raids. I took part with my friends and fellow tribesmen and ended up with 20 cows.

However, raiding is a risky business. People aren’t exactly pleased when we turn up trying to take their cattle! Lots of my friends were killed in the raids and I was lucky to survive. As you can imagine, my wife was worried. She told me to stop. “I do not want to be a widow when I am still young.” she said. I’ve told my friends that my raiding days are over.

It is sad to see it come to this. In my parents’ day there were plenty of animals, people lived in harmony, raiding was less common. More raiding has resulted in less cattle and everyone is less well off because of it. Nowadays we have turned our hand more to agriculture. Instead of relying on animals alone people can grow their own vegetables and sell enough to feed their entire family. This has meant that there is less raiding; cattle are still very important, but they are not everything. I want to be able to engage in the selling and buying of animals as well as that which I have grown. Then I will be able to support my family and send my children to school so that they might one day become better educated and better leaders.

In order for this to happen we need better investment in agricultural skill development and start up capital.

I believe certain forms of contract farming can provide important benefits to the farmers, allowing them to be supported by investments without depriving them of access to their land. At best, in such a scheme, the buyer has a reliable source of supply, the farmers have a reliable buyer for crops, and the land rights are left untouched.

I therefore encourage world leaders to do two things:

  • First, to reinvest in domestic agriculture to feed the rural poor, and be less vulnerable in the future to price increases for the food security.
  • Second, to diversify the economies, in order to develop skills for young people.

Increases in agricultural productivity can be key if these increases benefit small farmers, who are the poorest and are still in the rural areas.

Certain investments in public goods probably need to be done by the state, because there is no – or only a weak – incentive for the private sector to step in. For instance, Uganda should develop extension services, rural infrastructures and agricultural research. They should encourage farmer field schools and support the organisation of farmers in cooperatives.

As far as investment from the private sector is concerned, it is important and can complement public investment. But it should not take the form of large-scale acquisitions or leases or land, which can cause tremendous social and political disruption and are a step backwards in improving access to land for the poorest farmers, who are often poor in part because they have too little land to cultivate.

Background information

The Karamoja region of North-Eastern Uganda has been devastated by decades of armed conflict, cattle raiding, extreme poverty, instability, drought and weakened state authority. Poverty has brought with it extreme vulnerability to HIV and AIDS risks. In an initial study in 2009, only 7 percent of young people reported using condoms the last time they had sex. This is alarming considering that 6.3 percent of the population are living with HIV and AIDS.

Also, with 78 percent of Ugandans are younger than 30 and 84.6 percent living in rural areas, rural youth are the group most affected by poverty and development issues, yet they are consistently excluded from the development and decision-making processes affecting their lives.

Lutokoi’s involvement in the youth group is a great example of how young people can and will drive the development in their own country if they are given the opportunity to do so.

Featuring contributions from African citizens who are living in communities affected by extreme poverty, ONE’s African Voices series will follow their progress to give a better understanding of the day-to-day challenges they face and also to track changes that occur over time. Find out more at one.org/africanvoices.