Christian Living

africamatters 04/14/09

Deadly Argument Over...Cattle?!?

Reuters is reporting that more than 20 people were killed Easter Sunday when a fight broke out at a livestock market in Central African Republic. Click here to read the whole story.

Cattle is such an important commodity in Africa that often disputes like this turn deadly. I've decided to re-print one of my very first blogs that discusses the special place cattle has in the lives of many communities across the continent.   The blog originally ran in December of 2006...

The 'Wild West' of Africa

Nowadays, most Americans have a hard time thinking of a cow as something other than a hamburger with a side of fries. But even as recently as the 1930s, "cattle rustling"- stealing someone's cattle-was a serious, criminal offense. People would even get in to shootouts and fistfights over cows!

Today, many parts of Africa are similar to the "Wild West" in that most tribes prize their cattle above almost anything else in life. They, too, have problems with cattle rustling. It helps to know this when you see this played out across Africa in some of this week's headlines…

In Kenya, 19 people were killed near the Uganda border last week. Evidently more than 5,000 animals, including cattle and camels, were stolen. In explosive rage, hundreds of angry tribal warriors clashed. But unlike all the old Hollywood movies where the tribes use bows and arrows and spears, these warriors are defending their livestock with assault rifles.

Even more serious is the situation in East Africa. The region is experiencing some of the worst flooding in more than 50 years. Hundreds are drowning, being eaten by hungry alligators or languishing from malaria. The desperate situation is enough to break your heart. Even with the bleak prospects, the New York Times reports villagers in some parts of flooded Somalia would rather stay and die with their cattle than leave them and live. I suppose they feel if they stay with their cattle, there's always a chance they can ride things out, but if they leave, they forfeit their future.

Moses the cameraman and I got a very helpful piece of advice when we were in the bush staying with a Dinka tribe in Sudan…"You can touch a Dinka's woman, his hut or his children, but never, never touch his cattle." In fact, if you kill a person, you may or may not be killed as punishment. You have a chance of leniency depending on the circumstances. But if you kill someone's cow, it is automatic death! This may seem harsh, but put your self in their shoes… cattle are their livelihood, their food, their inheritance and dowries.