COURTROOM BATTLE

Camel herders challenge eviction, cite grazing leases

Recurrent court cases lead to call for a holistic approach to tackling the perennial conflict

In Summary

• Four herders claim they agreed with ranch owners to pay Sh1.6 million annually to graze at least 700 camels

A herder milks a camel at the banks of River Mtwamwagodi in Mariwenyi Village on August 2 last year
A herder milks a camel at the banks of River Mtwamwagodi in Mariwenyi Village on August 2 last year
Image: SOLOMON MUINGI

Taita Taveta county has long experienced perennial conflict between farmers and livestock herders due to unregulated ranches and expansive private farms.

Camel herders and authorities have disagreed over the eviction of herders, who are accused of invading farms and destroying crops. The herders faulted the county government, insisting they had obtained grazing agreements from locals.

In a court battle before Voi High Court, the herders want the county government and administrators to be restrained from flushing out herds of livestock.

The last time the parties appeared before High Court judge Farah Amin, petitioner’s lawyer Onesmus Mwinzi said the evictions were illegal.

Petitioners Mohamed Bashir, Mohammed Hassan, Rahow Malim and Kullow Ibrahim sought the Voi High Court to stop the county government and seven others from the operation aimed at curtailing illegal camel herding in the region.

They petitioned the Taita Taveta county government, Inspector General of Police and Attorney General, among others.

However, county legal director Edwin Chahilu urged the court not to curtail the operation, saying it was being undertaken within the confines of the law.

“The county government acted in accordance with the Veterinary Act and the Animal Disease Control Act,” Chahilu said.

"The county is faced with the challenge of ascertaining the number of animals within and those coming into the county. The county government has a legal mandate to control the movement of animals."

Chahilu further argued that a holistic approach to tackling the perennial conflict was the only way out, as opposed to the back-and-forth court proceedings.

Some of the camel owners are said to have obtained arbitrary leases from a few natives, who are members of the group ranches.

For instance, in a lease agreement seen by the Star and signed by Sagalla Ranch Ltd officials, the herders entered into a six-year grazing agreement running from January 2019 to January 2025.

According to the documents, camel owners Ibrahim Ali, Abdullah Abdurrahman, Rahow Maalim and Hassan Isaac would pay the ranch owners Sh1.6 million annually to graze at least 700 camels.

However, Livestock and Agriculture executive Davis Mwangoma said the government will not allow private landowners to enter into lease agreements with grazers.

He said all agreements shall be declared null and void, pending a legislation that can regulate the management of ranches.

According to the Community Land Act, group ranches are no longer private per se, but under the management, control and general governance of county governments.

Taita Taveta Ranchers Association Chairman Bong’osa Mcharo denied the existence of agreements between ranchers and the camel herders of Somali origin. 

“The association had not been consulted or made aware of any agreements," he said.

"We are still urging any member who has entered into a grazing agreement with herders to share the details with the county government and county security committee.”

Leaders in the county are against illegal camel grazing by herders, who have flooded ranches and private farms in the region. The county government does not recognise the lease agreements entered by a section of ranchers and the camel herders.

County Commissioner Rodah Onyancha called for a review of agreements between ranchers and herders.

“All ranchers should forward their lease agreements to the county security committee for scrutiny. We want to establish the exact number of herders grazing in all 28 ranches,” the county boss said.

Onyancha said the government will intensify a crackdown on illegal herders, further urging ranchers to work closely with the government in maintaining an updated database of herders and individuals living in the ranches.

She said all herders found grazing without lease documents will be flushed out and the ranch owners held accountable.