August 26, 2008, 9:45 PM — The cell phone has revolutionized the way Kenya's pastoral communities work and conduct business, according to Joseph ole Kishau, an elder in the Maasai community.
Using the cell phone, communities can make calls to warn adjacent villagers of cattle thieves and rustlers, which has made it hard for the attackers, Kishau said.
Cattle rustling is a cultural tradition among the pastoralist communities where one community steals cattle from another. Today, however, cattle rustling involves guns and affects communities in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania and Ethiopia. With technology, communities are able to prepare and guard their homes against the thieves, which reduces vulnerability.
Pastoral communities occupy vast areas, but now that most people have mobile phones, communication between herders has become easy, said Molu Kulu, an elder from the Gabbra community in Northern Kenya.
"The mobile has made us equal," Kulu said. "It is not like the landline, which was only available in some homes, or the phone booth, which was available in trading centers. Now everyone can communicate."
Mobile phones have also changed the way these communities conduct business: Herders call Nairobi to find out the market rates for their livestock, and they can receive daily prices via SMS (Short Message Service), enabling them to demand better rates from livestock buyers.
The M-PESA electronic money transfer service, however, is what amuses Kishau the most: "I can send money to any part of the Rift Valley without spending money on bus fare or walking there. This is so good."
"The market has now come to our door step," said Kulu. "I can sell my cattle from my home and receive money via M-PESA. I do not have to walk the long distance."
Moreover, the mobile phone has aided peace initiatives due to the ease of communication and coordination with village elders, said Patta Scott-Villiers of the United Nations Pastoralist Communication Initiative.
"UN PCI works with the traditional elders who wield a lot of power in their communities," he said. "With a mobile phone, we can easily communicate with them, no matter the distance."