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Disarming the Sons of Pastoralists: A Safer Haven for Women

Finally some water girl trying to purify muddy water

The feminist movement in Kenya is all a-frenzy that men are the main cause of our problems. Well they may be, but I believe that the man I’m about to talk to is one in a million. In a patriarchal society, there is one going against the current.

Here is a young man, aged 31. In the last 8 years, he has build relationships with war-torn communities. He has supported community participatory projects and seen women speak- out, in a world where women are marginalised and expected to watch in silence as trouble breeds. He has seen women healed and empowered to be change agents among the pastoralist communities.

“I love to travel and work with pastoralists,” he says. When I was younger, I was a shepherd boy. Watching herders reminds me of that,” he adds smiling. Through community policing, Ndung’u is also disarming communities.

James Ndung’u’s work with communities in conflict-affected regions of Mt. Elgon, West Pokot and Isiolo, is aimed at peace building and conflict management. This is through disarming them, and necessitating that women and girls are able to live in a harmonious environment, free of any form of violence that may distort their livelihoods- home making and nurturing their families.

The Situation of Pastoralists

Pastoralist areas in Kenya are marginalised. For instance, North-eastern province is an arid area encompassing nearly 700km of largely unmarked border with Somalia. It is mostly hot and dry throughout the year. Scarce rains coupled with frequent droughts and harsh temperatures have dictated pastoral nomadism as the economic mainstay over generations.

Although peace is somewhat prevailing in Kenya, pastoralist areas remain in conflict. “The root cause is competition over resources such as water, pasture and animals which are held dear. Other controversies include border disputes and conflict over land,“ says Ndung’u.

According to the Institute for Security Studies (2004), commercialisation and increased violence during cattle rustling is enhanced by gun-use.

Pastoralist communities are characterised with abject poverty. Among the Pokot for instance, bride price is too high. Young men are forced to criminal activity to pay for a wife. Bride price ranges from 15-30 cows, 30-150 goats and 3-10 camels, all for one wife.

Although stealing within the community is a taboo, traditionally, stealing from enemies is sanctioned. By the 1970’s, the Pokot used bows and arrows for rustling. Soon, it became necessary to own guns, individually or communally for protection. Armed rustling is now a vicious cycle, being passed down from one generation to the next.

Peace Building and Conflict Management

James Ndung’u is an authority in Conflict and Peace. He has had 8 years of experience and has an M.A. in Armed Conflict and Peace Studies.

Working for Saferworld- UK, he is the Small Arms and Light Weapons (SALW) Project Co-ordinator for the Kenya program.

“I take keen interest working with communities in general. Women are part of that”, he says in an interview.
At the community level, Ndung’u‘s work entails promoting dialogue, mediation, providing financial support to community-based peace initiatives, capacity-building communities and law enforcement agencies.

Nationally, he is involved in policy development. “We are currently working on security related policies such as on small arms, with the government,” he adds.

Ndung’u’s work is directly shedding a light on the lives of women in the pastoralist communities. By encouraging communities (men and boys) to voluntarily surrender weapons, women are safer. “Women are the most affected, in times of conflict. They bear the burden of caring for families, when their men die in conflict,” he laments. With insecurity, women cannot do their tasks. Further, pastoralists live in arid and semi arid lands, where water is scarce. “Women have to walk long distances -up to 20 Kilometres - in search of water”, he adds.

Ndung’u acknowledges that since security provision is a basic right of every citizen, women are also entitled to it. “Women are entitled to equal protection by the state. “This is why I am keenly working on policy formulation with the Kenyan government,” he says.

Without security there can’t be development. ”It is only in secure environment that women can secure their livelihoods and improve their quality of life,” adds Ndung’u. In armed conflict women tell of how they are subjected to torture. “The default is rape, and other human rights violations. Women are exploited. They suffer battery or abandonment by their spouses, when impregnated at war.” Ndung’u adds. This clearly brings out the fact that among pastoralists, women are perceived unequal to their male counterparts.

“Access to basic needs is also hampered by conflict,” he says. “Health care is one such issue. Since women in these communities are the providers and homemakers, how can women do these duties without security?” he retorts.

Women of pastoralists cannot participate in decision-making. “We are empowering them for their voices to be heard. For instance, in Isiolo, we are in partnership with the Isiolo Districts Women Peace Forum,” he adds. Expanding space for women participation in peace building and conflict management has been successful. “With their increased capacities, the women are preaching peace within the area and in neighbouring districts. They are also offering support to fellow women in conflict situations.”

Empowered, these women are urging their men and sons to cease from warring. They are talking and changing their world, thanks to the work of people like Ndung’u.


Through peace building and disarming pastoralists, Ndung’u is creating opportunities for women to participate in leadership and decision-making. ”Men allow them to talk in peace meetings. Women are also increasingly taking up leadership positions as community leaders, and running for civic seats.” He adds.

Indeed, women movements everywhere need to incorporate men as partners. Yes, some are the perpetrators of violence, but they are our brothers, fathers and sons. Our cultures may be made by men and for men, but without them, the battle will never be won. Engaging them is dealing with the root-causes of our problem.

This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices
of Our Future
, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training
for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from
some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet

Tired after a 20 kms journey in search of water
Bow arrow demo



Nusrat Ara's picture

It is a really good and

It is a really good and different idea. choosing a man i mean . good work


Jennifer Ruwart's picture



I have great respect for James and his commitment to improving the lives of women and children... and the community at large. My personal belief is that the women's empowerment movement will not be successful as a whole if we do not have the buy-in and support of our male allies. Of course, how this looks is often more complicated than it appears on the surface. We have thousands of years of cultural norms to challenge and shift in a direction.

Did James share how he got started? Does he have a personal experience that put him on his journey?

Jennifer Ruwart
Chief Collaborator
JR Collaborations

Kizzie's picture

Hey Stella, Wonderful guy, I

Hey Stella,

Wonderful guy, I really look up to him, I love it when I hear about young Africans trying to cause change in their communities! I'm proud of him! Kenya is a great country, it just needs people like James to work not with governemnts and institutions but with the average Kenyans, listen to them and help them solve their problems through peace-building and creative means. Peacebuilding is so important for developing countries because without peace, real development is difficult. I've noticed that in many countries in the region, Sudan, Egypt etc.., rural areas are always neglected, they are impoverished, underdeveloped and the rule of law is not exactly upholded there.

Good luck, great writing!


stella Ndugire- Mbugua's picture


Thanks Nusrat, Jen and Kizzie

@Kizzie...true! He lives in Modern Nairobi but loves the underdeveloped world and is constantly visiting.

@ Jen,

Truly, thats an angle I need to share. I will be posting something on that soon.


Stella Ndugire- Mbugua
ICS- Africa

mrbeckbeck's picture

What a guy!

Great work Stella!

You so effortlessly weave in the specific details and the contextual background information. His quotes drop in so naturally, as do the quick facts you provide. As a reader, I enjoyed this piece a lot. Truly a great interview!

As one of the few men who "get it," I always appreciate seeing other men working to support women's empowerment and participation in decision making. There are a few of us here Stella, so, tell me-- did you invite him onto PulseWire?

:-) Keep up the great work! We're all ready to read more from you.

Scott Beck
World Pulse Online Community Volunteer

olakitike's picture


its great to see a guy working to help women. it shows that there is hope for the future of the human race. good job stella

stella Ndugire- Mbugua's picture

Dear Olakitike


thanks for your post.. True true!! There is hope!
Such men are rare, but if you look carefully, you will notice them.

hope you are diving into assignment two!!


Stella Ndugire- Mbugua
ICS- Africa

stella Ndugire- Mbugua's picture

Dear Scott...

Thanks for your encouragement.
I'm sure he will be joining pulse soon...I guess now i know that men can join too!!

I'm blushing, but really happy with the comments.

Have a lovely day.


Stella Ndugire- Mbugua
ICS- Africa

Francie's picture

Great Story

Hi Stella,

The story about James and the great work he is doing is a treat to read about. Your premise is right on...women and men must work together to solve problems such as the plight of the pastoralists. men are not the enemy, as you state, but they need leaders like James and the courage to stand shopulder to shoulder with the wives and daughters in the struggle for peace. Your story makes this point eloquently!

stella Ndugire- Mbugua's picture

thanks Francie...

True true... We need them in our journey to liberation. They are often the source or contributor to our problems.

Heartfelt gratitude for listening in....


Stella Ndugire- Mbugua
ICS- Africa

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