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July 18, 2018

Voice from the grave: Tristan Voorspuy puts Laikipia invasions into perspective

Kenya police officers gather as they are deployed to guard Sosian ranch following the killing of Tristan Voorspuy a British co–owner of the Sosian ranch in the drought-stricken Laikipia region, Kenya, March 6, 2017. REUTERS
Kenya police officers gather as they are deployed to guard Sosian ranch following the killing of Tristan Voorspuy a British co–owner of the Sosian ranch in the drought-stricken Laikipia region, Kenya, March 6, 2017. REUTERS

Some people are unhappy with the use of the word 'invasion' in Laikipia today.

Europeans arrived and built a railway in Kenya in roughly 1900. A population census put the population at two million in what was to become Kenya.

At independence in 1963 a survey revealed roughly seven million. A census in 2010 produced over 40 million. There are now nearer 50 million and it will be 100 million in 40 years.

There have never been more than roughly 50,000 Caucasians in Kenya. The Laikipia treaty in 1904 moved a few thousand Maasai to southern Kenya but some stayed and Laikipia Maasai still occupy group ranches ( Il Ngwezi and Tassia ) and some subdivided ex-colonial ranches. If Laikipia is one million acres, there is approximately 500,000 in private hands in ranches and conservancies that encourage wildlife.

The Samburu reserve/homeland was always well to the north of Laikipia and comprises over two million acres ruled by a Gerontocracy of the elders. They only migrated into Kenya 400 years ago and displaced some other ethnic groups as they did so.

Pokot occupied the area to the north and west of Lake Baringo and up the side of the Rift Valley's eastern wall. It is another large homeland but the Pokot have traditionally clashed and cattle raided against Turkana and Samburu.

The Powys family came to Kenya and worked for Lord Delamere before the First World War. Samburu and Ndorobo armed youth occupied their Suyian ranch, 44,000 acres, and burned the tourist camp in February. The Suyian ranch runs nearly 4,000 head of its own cattle and employs 150 people. There are now at least 8,000 head of cattle on Suyian.

In 1999, I put a consortium together to purchase the Sosian ranch from a bank who exercised their charge on the property from Kikuyu owners. There was no grass or game on the farm. The Samburu who had squatted there had moved off because nothing was left. We now have 1,800 head of cattle and stick to the crucial 1 beast to 15 acre ratio. We employ 150 people at the tourist lodge and pay $200,000 in tax every year. It is a culmination of 18 years of love and investment but we are bracing ourselves for an armed walk-on any day now.

After leaving the army in 1981 Mr Voorspuy, pictured above, drove a motorbike from London to Cape Town for nine months and looked for work in Africa. Photo/File

In mid-February we heard that the OCPD Rumuruti was shot in the neck just outside Rumuruti on Kifuku farm which has been in the Aggett family for 80 years.

Kifuku is a fifth generation farm of 8,000 acres with no game. It has been besieged by fully armed Pokot and Samburu for six months. The police have been quite supportive as this is a political invasion by big wigs to drive families off the land. Rumuruti is relatively urban and more Kikuyu than anything else . Kifuku has ceased farming and placed all their livestock with neighbors such as ourselves.

Mugie ranch, 49,000 acres just to the north of us, was purchased from its African owners around 20 years ago by a true philanthropist, Nicky Hahn, a Swiss national who developed a successful wine business in California. Mugie is on the border of Pokot and Samburu and is the last ranch going north. Nicky built a primary and secondary school for over 200 children and spent millions of dollars on community and development projects.

Mugie was walked onto in December and their 5,000 head of cattle and teeming game population was augmented by 40,000 head of cattle. Grisly Pokot rituals of warrior status involving big game, long since extirpated in their own lands , have been revived. Elephant , buffalo , giraffe and other game have been shot and mutilated.

The northern tribes may be desperate in the latest, but by no means catastrophic, drought. Six years of reasonable rain have allowed them to overstock with their domestic stock while fat cats put stolen money into livestock as an untraceable asset. The degradation of the fragile Northern sandy soils which supported man, livestock and game for thousands of years is nearly complete and will take decades to recover.

Tragically their home areas still teem with women, children and huge herds of sheep and goats. The cattle have moved south with the young men who do not listen to the elders any more and are armed to the teeth because they know they are breaking the law.

If the Laikipia ranch owners left, these people would be happy for a very short space of time as they swamped the land and destroyed every last blade of grass. The attitude of 'if I do not get that last blade somebody else will' is paramount. Sadly that is the paradigm that governs most overpopulated pastoral activity today.

Do these four examples from Laikipia justify the term 'invasion'?

The population statistics are the cause of the problem. Sadly Laikipia and Kenya are one small example of the greatest challenge mankind has yet faced. What chance is there for the wildlife and tourism, let alone ourselves, in the long run?

The late Tristan Voorspuy was shot dead on Sosian ranch on March 5.

Read: Murdered Briton's body moved from Sosian ranch to Nairobi - Nkaissery

Also read: Briton rancher’s body retrieved, as 379 illegal grazers arrested


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