A meeting of East African regional police chiefs approved a new plan to combat cattle rustling in the region on Friday. The plan includes an ambitious programme of branding cows to make them easier to identify.
The chiefs said branding cows could deter potential rustlers because their loot would effectively be tagged, making it easier for police to recover cattle and punish perpetrators.
In a statement issued at the end of a three-day intensive meeting in Kampala involving seven countries and several international bodies, the police chiefs said that while branding herds was not easy, "member states should urgently try to put in place mechanisms that would facilitate identification of herds either by family, clan or district for ease of restitution after recovery”.
The recommendation was part of a parcel of reforms aiming to lessen insecurity in the regions of East Africa worst affected by cattle-rustling and armed banditry.
Countries involved in drafting the resolution included Kenya, Tanzania, Seychelles, Sudan, Uganda and South Africa. International organisations included the East African Community, the Inter-governmental Authority on Development and the Hague-based Institute of Social Studies.
Police chiefs admitted that the biggest mistake in the past had been lack of police cooperation between countries affected.
Besides branding cows, they also proposed coordinated training schemes to help regional forces investigate allegations of cattle-rustling more efficiently. Delegates also suggested that border controls be dramatically tightened to curb arms trafficking.
However, Sudanese deputy police chief Brigedier General Jamal Hilmi told IRIN he doubted that armed robbery and cattle-rustling in the region would ever be curbed while Sudan was still at war.
“Many of these guns are coming from the war-affected regions of southern Sudan”, he said. “You can’t police these because they are too dangerous. As long as there is rebellion in the south [of Sudan] there will be arms proliferation.”