James Bevan
Weapon specialist and conflict analyst
James Bevan
The Turkana, Northern Kenya 2006-2008

In 2007, the Turkana of northern Kenya were locked into a series of deadly conflicts with the Karimojong of northeastern Uganda and the Toposa of southern Sudan. These conflicts were driven by scarcity of grazing for cattle, characterized by large-scale inter-communal raiding and exacerbated by the easy availability of modern weaponry.

Following my arms and ammunition tracing work among the Karimojong of northeastern Uganda, I received funding from the Government of Germany to pursue a long-term study into arms and ammunition flows in the region. This work, which eventually led me into southern Sudan, back into Uganda and, briefly,  to southwestern Ethiopia, involved spending significant periods of time living and traveling among the Turkana and their adversaries.

This was one of the most intense and rewarding field research missions I had undertaken. It offered me the chance to observe, at first hand, the conflict and to track the weapons and ammunition holdings of specific groups. It also brought home to me the real impacts of armed violence on the communities I stayed with, as I observed a mounting death toll from raids and counter-raids by heavily armed fighters, including an attack on the United Nations (image below).

My research broke new ground in the field of ammunition tracing as it not only identified the origins of the ammunition in question, but compiled records of thousands of cartridges sampled from numerous conflicting groups of fighters. Statistical analysis of these samples enabled me to map the groups that traded ammunition with one another and provided a dynamic picture of the intra-regional trade in arms.

The most significant finding of my work with the Turkana was the large-scale and illegal transfer of ammunition to the Turkana by agents of the Kenyan state, including local officials and at least one government minister. The findings are presented in the book 'Blowback: Kenya's ammunition problem in Turkana North' and have informed a growing interest in ammunition tracing worldwide; notably in several United Nations initiatives.

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Blood stained and bullet holed: A UN vehicle following an armed attack. James Bevan, Lokichoggio, Northern Kenya, XX
James Bevan