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War of the cows

A friend recently sent me information regarding the ownership of cattle in the area of Masisi occupied by former CNDP rebels. He said he had gathered information about 7,200 cows in Masisi belonging to high-ranking Rwandan officials.

I have no way of independently verifying this. However, in the UN panel report I helped write in 2008 we said: “The Group has seen official agricultural documents showing that CNDP officers own over 1,500 cows in a small area of their territory, worth between $450,000 and $750,000, and probably own far more than that in other areas they occupy. According to ranchers, there could be as many as 180,000 cows in North Kivu, many of them in territory under CNDP control.”

There is no doubt that thousands of cows have crossed the border from Rwanda over the past year. Several reports of Tutsi refugees returning from Rwanda to Masisi indicate that groups often cross with herds of cattle. Several factors have played into this. Rwanda has limited the public grazing of cattle and recently introduced zero-grazing (keeping cattle indoors) to prevent soil erosion. En bref, there is limited room in Rwanda for cattle. In a country where cows have huge cultural significance, people are attached to the idea of buying cattle. Many ex-CNDP officers have also invested in large herds of cattle – I remember that when General Bosco received a cash windfall after being appointed the head of the CNDP a year ago, he spent quite a bit on buying more heads of cattle.

It’s hard to guess how much these cows are worth. Frisian and Brown Swiss – good milk cows – can run as high as $1,000/head, but the Ugandan Longhorn can be much cheaper, as little as $200-300/head. In any case, 7,000 cows could be anywhere between $1,4 and $7 million.

Don’t laugh, but cattle play an important role in the conflict. Agriculturalists – mostly Hutu and Hunde – are sometimes pushed off their land to make way for cattle. The conquest of land often goes hand in hand with securing land for cattle grazing. Raids by the Mai-Mai or Congolese army against the CNDP in North Kivu and against the Banyamulenge in South Kivu have sometimes gone hand in hand with cattle raiding worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. In Goma for a while they had introduced a new phrase into the lexicon of natural resource wars: Blood cheese.

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