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January 19, 2019

Land invasion wrecks Laikipia

Looted office in Mugie.Photo courtesy
Looted office in Mugie.Photo courtesy

Herders are still invading Laikipia and Nyeri counties, despite warnings and deadlines from the government.

In four months, about 10,000 pastoralists from Baringo, Isiolo and Samburu counties with around 135,000 cattle have invaded Laikipia.

Initially the invaders were primarily Samburu but in the last month, they have been joined by heavily armed Pokot.

Territorial carve-ups

The epicentre of the invasions has been in Laikipia North, but violence spills over into both Laikipia East and West.

“What we are seeing is the implementation of a plan made before the 2013 elections, when the Samburu and Pokot resolved their 2006-09 feud by agreeing to attack everybody else,” one resident said.

“It was agreed the Pokot would get everything west of the Rumuruti-Maralal road and the Samburu would take everything to the east. They have often worked together, bringing in Pokot as shock troops in the invasion of Segera for example, but they are broadly sticking to this territorial carve-up.”

Read: It’s time to deploy KDF in volatile Laikipia

He went on to say: “This was all planned years ago, and is designed to peak in the run-up to the elections. Votes in exchange for grass and land grabs, the seizure of Laikipia by outsiders and the expulsion of rival tribes, ranchers and conservancies.”

Over the weekend in Laikipia, Devolution CS Mwangi Kiunjuri told pastoralists to leave the county by Tuesday.

He asked police to drive away Samburu pastoralists who have invaded farms in Laikipia and Nyeri, saying the government would provide them with clean water and hay for their animals.

“I have given police 12 hours to make sure no pastoralist and his animals are seen in private farms. We want a peaceful country and drought should not be a reason for Kenyans to fight,” he said.

Some pastoralists are now reportedly heading towards Mt Kenya, Nyahururu and the Aberdares. Others remain with around 50,000 cattle in the Mugie Conservancy until the grazing there is exhausted.

The extraordinary passivity of the government in the face of the Laikipia invasion is partly due to the reluctance of the police to confront the armed pastoralists.

In July last year, Deputy President William Ruto promised to restore law and order in Laikipia through disarmament of the pastoralists.

On October 13, the Cabinet “promised to take stern action on those invading private ranches in Laikipia and other parts of the country”.

The Interior CS Joseph Nkaissery was directed to immediately remove all illegal herders in private land and ranches, and that “Those found entering other people’s land must be arrested and prosecuted”.

On November 25, Nkaissery ordered that all pastoralists should be removed from Laikipia.

Yet virtually nothing has happened, giving the impression to residents that there is a breakdown of government and a power vacuum.

It is widely believed that most of the cattle driven into Laikipia belong to politicians and cattle barons, who hide their wealth in livestock and employ their relatives to herd them.

National Cohesion and Integration Commission chairman Francis ole Kaparo chaired a meeting in Rurumuti in November to resolve the crisis.

The meeting led to some police deployment, but the police tended to shoot in the air rather than confronting the armed Samburu herdsmen.

In early January, invaders briefly broke into Kaparo’s ranch but left shortly after and he was able to repair his fence.

Mugie conservancy attacked

The latest ranch to be attacked is the 49,000 acre Mugie Conservancy, which has been looted over the last week after Pokot herdsmen invaded with cattle, sheep and goats.

County commissioner Onesmus Musyoki tried to coordinate a response but the armed militias overpowered KWS rangers and Anti-Stock Theft Unit police who tried to resist them. One Mugie staff member was shot dead by the invaders.

The Pokot broke the Mugie fences and stole kilometres of wire. The herdsmen have been shooting elephant, buffalo, eland and zebra. Property was looted from houses and workshops at Mugie.

An estimated 500 cattle were stolen from Mugie by the Pokot, although 290 were recovered with the help of the police. Nevertheless, the Mugie cattle business faces closure, with the loss of 35 to 50 jobs.

Half the pupils of the Mugie Primary School have run away after armed pastoralists arrived there.

The school is temporarily closed and the cattle are in the vegetable garden, so there will be no food if the pupils return.

The 8,000 acre Kifuku mixed farm suffered persistent rustling last year. Pokot attacked police around Kifuku ranch on December 22 but then left.

However, they have now returned and the owner has been under rifle fire in her home for the last week, while 19 cows and 21 calves have been stolen. The raiders have destroyed half the buildings.

This is all happening within 16km of Rumuruti, supposedly Laikipia county’s headquarters.

On January 2, 10 attackers riddled a Toyota Hilux with 20 bullets just 8km from Rumuruti. PC Michael Chepsiro was taken to Nyahururu General Hospital with a bullet in his leg.

The ambush was in the same place where farmer Wachira Mwai was shot in July. Samburu invaders smashed his fences, stole his livestock and removed mabati from his house.

He stayed in the bathroom, which had a slab roof, until they shot him twice. Mwai is now in a wheelchair and has abandoned his farm.

In November, Samburu pastoralists shot farmer Will Jennings in the same area.

On January 2, police intercepted an Isuzu heading towards Rumuruti with 42 stolen sheep. Another 22 sheep stolen from the same farmer were tracked to Ol Moran and rescued.

On December 30, the police, with the help of local people, managed to intercept four sheep stolen from Ngorare farm and taken away on boda bodas.

However, on New Year’s Eve, six Dutch holidaymakers were attacked by Pokot in Laikipia Nature Conservancy.

Harm Duiker, had of Dutch aid agency SNV, and six others were attacked by 10 Pokot youth armed with crude weapons who blocked the road with boulders.

They smashed the windscreen and windows but the tourists escaped when an AP with them fired in the air.

In December, American ambassador Robert Godec visited Laikipia and heard how the 50,000 acre Segera ranch was invaded in June.

Segera is owned by Puma founder Jochen Zeitz and employs hundreds of people and has six schools for 1,800 children.

Loisaba, a community owned conservancy, was overrun by 30,000 cattle in October.

Travel advisories mooted

Foreign embassies are apparently considering travel advisories to warn tourists not to travel to Laikipia, Kenya’s top wildlife destination after the Maasai Mara.

Laikipia North MP Matthew Lempurkel has repeatedly said people are dreaming if they think the Samburu will leave Laikipia.

He has demanded that police stop their actions against the herdsmen and strongly opposed any disarmament operation by the government.

“The Pokot and Samburu aim to seize Kifuku completely and chase the owners away, as they already took over Mwai’s farm after shooting him and destroying his farmstead,” a resident said.

“The attack on Mugie is a facsimile of the invasion of Segera. Laikipia is in the grip of anarchy and the government is sitting on its hands.”

Historically, private ranchers have welcomed pastoralists, allowing them to graze their cattle inside the ranches during drought periods. However, last year, the matter took a political angle, another resident said.

Some politicians have been inciting locals to drive out the ranchers and take over the land. Some have even promised to apportion them acreage if they succeed. Hundreds have also been displaced in Laikipia East and Laikipia West constituencies.

A memo to Nkaissery written in November last year by local leaders noted that the invasions started in March 2013 but have been gathering pace over the years, taking a political angle.

“It is obvious that the happenings in Laikipia are not as a result of drought, as many would want you to believe, but instead as a result of expansionism, with the main aim being forceful eviction of ranchers in private and group ranches,” reads the memo, signed by eight leaders including two MPs.

Laikipia North MP Matthew Lempurkel attacked nominated MP Sarah Lekorore for her part in the memo and was due in court yesterday to face charges of assault.

Speaking to the Star this week, county police commander Simon Kipkeu said a few illegal weapons have been surrendered and said the security personnel are doing their best.

Laikipia Senator GG Kariuki told the Star on the phone that illegal guns, mistrust between ranchers and local herders, and criminal elements are fuelling conflict in Laikipia.

Call for disarmament

In November 2016, Laikipia West MP Wachira Karani asked Nkaissery to order the resumption of forceful disarmament as thousands of residents have been displaced.

Karani castigated Lempurkel and Samburu North MP Aloise Lentoimanga (the vice chairperson of Parliamentary Committee on Security), and Samburu West MP Lati Lelelit for opposing disarmament.

“It is apparent that the government wants to make Laikipia a colony of Samburu. It is Laikipia people who have been killed in the skirmishes and thousands of others displaced by clashes, which are being perpetrated by people coming from Samburu,” Karani said.

At the Jamhuri Day celebrations at Nanyuki stadium in December, ranching community chairman Gilfred Powys said it was regrettable that some politicians were inciting pastoralists with false promises of taking over the land.

During the celebrations, county commissioner Onesmus Musyoki warned leaders against inciting violence under the guise of helping their communities to access pasture.

“Those who invade private farms will be evicted with a force similar to the one they employ,” Musyoki promised.

Governor Joshua Irungu warned that politicians were to blame after Laikipia has been peaceful for four years.

“These skirmishes only recur as we approach elections,” said Irungu.

Last weekend, MP Lekorere and Mukogodo East MCA Paul Leshuel lamented that no private ranch in Laikipia had given scholarship to needy students this year because of the financial crisis caused by the invasions.

In previous years, private ranchers sponsored needy students and orphans.

“Private lands have been invaded and property set on fire, workers killed and businesses are going down. These ranchers have helped local communities in offering scholarships and building schools, but the situation is really worrying,” said the legislator.

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