Rustlers, Bandits and Gun Runners: The Gangs Vying for Cattle in Kenya

A Tungen herder watches over his livestock with an illegal rifle in Baringo county, Kenya. At least 530,000 small arms are estimated to be in circulation among civilians. Photograph: Will Swanson

On the run from the armed cattle rustlers of rural Kenya

On a hot morning in May, Wilson Kemei stands with an old Soviet rifle in his hands, ready to protect the hundreds of people taking refuge in a tiny, makeshift camp in Baringo county. They have fled there after gunmen shot and killed their neighbours in January.

Six years ago, Kemei was recruited to the Kenya Police Reserve (KPR), a ragtag militia whose members wear mismatching uniform – a camouflage jacket here, green army trousers there, with toes poking out of rubber sandals. They receive as little as a single day of training before being handed a gun, weapons like the wooden-stock SKS rifle clutched by Kemei.

“It’s not good,” says Kemei, 41, of the malfunctioning weapon. “You have to cock it one bullet at a time.”

The reservists are tasked with carrying out the work that Kenya’s police and armed forces have been unable to do: fighting off armed bandits who are terrorising Baringo county and other parts of central Kenya as they steal livestock and shoot anyone who gets in their way.

Read the full story at The Guardian. See photos by Will Swanson.

Once you’ve read about the problem, check out the solution: Seeds of Green: As drought kills Kenya’s livestock, some herders are fighting hunger by growing their own grass. By Anthony Langat and me for U.S. News & World Report.