Accepted Paper:

Law and War in Rural Kenya  


Suzette Heald

Paper short abstract:

This film revisits a vigilante movement that arose to combat cattle raiding and gun crime in Kenya ten years after it had brought peace to the area. In telling the story of its origin and current operation it reveals a contrast between areas where it still operates, though with difficulty, and those where it has faltered and led to a revival of clan warfare

Paper long abstract:

In 1998, a new movement swept through Kuria District in S.W. Kenya with dramatic effect.

Cattle raiding fuelled by guns had led to a situation of total insecurity, with all in fear of the thieves. Then, a group of men in just one location effected a new organisation merging ideas from the Tanzanian vigilante movement, sungusungu, with their own indigenous assembly, the iritongo. Within a year the movement had spread throughout Kuria and the District as a whole was at peace.

This film revisits the iritongo movement ten years later. In telling the story of its origin, and its current operation, it reveals a broad contrast between the areas where the iritongo still functions and those where it has faltered and died. In these latter areas there has been a revival of clan warfare.

The film thus reveals a deeper conflict between two modes of life, of a people on the cusp of an older pastoral lifestyle in which cattle raiding is regarded as heroic and one dedicated to agriculture with its need for daily labour, to 'stealing from the soil' rather than from each other. Here eyes are to the future, to 'development' and incorporation into the modern state, with a consequent shift in moral values, towards a civil morality. Here raiding ceases to be seen as heroic and becomes simple theft. Both tendencies are embedded in the current political realities in Kuria.

Director: Suzette Heald; Camera: Susi Arnott; Editor: James Uren

2010: 64 minutes, distributed by RAI

Available with English and French sub-ttles. Original language: English and Kikuria

Panel W134
Film programme