‘Cattle rustling’ has developed from a cultural or survival practice to a, now often, widespread and criminal activity. In some instances, there can be up-to a hundred raiders involved. Direct physical violence often accompanies the raids which is makes it an even bigger security problem. This has often been because of the spread of small arms and light weapons (SALW).

This evolution from cultural to criminal appears to be the trend across the African continent. Previously, it was a cultural practice which involved the stealing of one or two bulls as part of rites of passage or to provide for the bride’s price. In recent years, it has become a security and humanitarian problem due to deaths resulting from the armed raids and the displacement of individuals as a result of their loss of livelihood.

This page details some of the common measures taken in Madagascar, Lesotho, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya and Nigeria to address cattle rustling, as well as the challenges faced in implementing these measures.  

You can read ISSAT’s full report, Cattle Rustling and Insecurity in Africa: A Comparative Perspective, by following the link. The report includes further information about the measures implemented in the above countries as well as full details of the conclusions and recommendations made by ISSAT and other studies.

Policing/specialised units

There has been a wide variety of measures implemented by national security services. This has included security presence amongst the cattle as a deterrent mechanism, armed incursions and specialised units specifically trained in addressing the problem. In South Africa, Niger and Kenya, specialist units have had some success in tackling cattle rustling through clear communication and cooperation with other security services.


  • Corruption within the security services and other institutions, as well as links between them and the raiders prevent the security services is a significant impediment to addressing cattle rustling. In some countries, high-ranking individuals are directly involved in the process by directing the cattle meat onto legitimate markets. 
  • Insufficient personnel, equipment, communication, ammunition and transportation resources are a significant obstacle to tackling the problem. Although there are success stories, security services often arrive too late to the scene or have insufficient ammunition resources and are outgunned by the raiders, resulting in them being ineffective at recovering livestock. 

Community Response/Community Policing

Local communities or associations have been involved in monitoring and supporting the security sector in tackling the problem through providing information to security services and assisting in public awareness campaigns. They have also been able to react to emergencies whilst awaiting the arrival of the security services.  


  • Poor communication between security services and local communities has resulted in security services arriving too late to the scene of raids.
  • Raiders are becoming more and more heavily armed resulting in local communities feeling intimidated or that it is too dangerous to lend their support  

Judicial Processes

There have also been attempts to prevent and secure justice for cattle rustling through judicial means. There has also been a local community response through local trials/customary courts where local leaders, who often have a better knowledge and understanding of cattle rustling, can preside over the case. Furthermore, local systems can often provide for quick, informal cases with compensation to cattle owners, in contrast to central court systems. In Kenya, these traditional courts were given a juridical status when dealing with cattle rustling.


  • Poor prosecution rates due to problems at all stages of the process; from evidence gathering, to slow and lengthy prosecution and overcrowding in prisons as a result. A major problem is the difficulty or inability to prove ownership of the cattle through a lack of branding or tagging. 

Disarmament programmes

Whether voluntary or forced, disarmament has been the approach of a number of countries in the region. This process has been supported in some instances through programmes designed to improve resilience of local communities including through the provision of alternative livelihoods.


  • Farmers have resorted to carrying weapons for protection from raiders and disarmament programmes have left local communities feeling vulnerable to attacks. In Uganda, the security services have been effective in introducing alternative security measures in parallel with disarmament programmes.
  • Where forceful disarmament has taken place, raiders have instead taken up more sophisticated weapons, escalating the violence further.


Through the use of microchip implants and radio frequency technology, animals can be tracked and monitored. Furthermore, utilising this technology can act as a deterrent to prevent cattle rustling. Employing this technology could assist in proving ownership at trial where, often, a lack of branding or other evidence significantly hinders the process. 

Regional Response

The East Africa Police Chiefs Cooperation Organisation (EAPCCO) agreed the Protocol on the Prevention, Combating and Eradication of Cattle Rustling in Eastern Africa in 2008. The Protocol details a variety of measures including legislative measures, branding/tagging of livestock, improvements to police and border authority capacities and public awareness programmes. However, it is yet to come into force.

The Mifugo Project was launched by EAPCCO and the Institute for Security Studies to implement some of the measures detailed in the 2008 Protocol; however, it was discontinued due to a lack of funding.