PASTORALISM VS AGRICULTURE

Grazing row turns Taita farms into killing fields

At least five people have been killed and 11 camels hacked to death in a bloody conflict that has been raging for decades between herders and farmers

In Summary

• The herders moved to the county from North Eastern in search of water and pasture, allegedly paying millions for access to ranches

• This puts them in conflict with locals, who have crops to protect and cattle to feed

Camels graze at Mariwenyi, Taita Taveta county, on August 2 last year
Camels graze at Mariwenyi, Taita Taveta county, on August 2 last year
Image: SOLOMON MUINGI

Coming from the arid North Eastern region, camel herders find solace in the farmlands of Taita Taveta county.

They claim entitlement from agreements with ranch owners. But locals disown them as invaders and accuse them of wreaking havoc on their crops.

When the herders and farmers collide, they leave a trail of death, both of people and livestock. Attempts to evict the herders meet resistance and end up in court. But for the victims, justice remains a mirage. 

 
 

The influx of herders has been linked to poaching and insecurity. Grazers in the expansive Tsavo Nationa Park have also been blamed for persistent human-wildlife conflict.

But for residents, the most pressing problem is the bloodshed.

When Alex Malumba, 35, was slain by camel herders at his Kirumbi home in Taita Taveta county, his mother, Rachael Luvuma, hoped justice would be swift. 

Alex, who was resisting forceful grazing in his farm, succumbed to multiple stabs he sustained from the suspected herders in June. 

 

Despite multiple promises by leaders across the divide who attended the burial, Rachael says she has been left in agony, with no update on her son’s killer’s case.

 

“I only need justice for my son. The killers must be punished,” she tearfully said in an interview.

She appealed to leaders to help her get justice for her slain son, saying he was the breadwinner of his family.

 
 

The appeal echoes cries by victims of similar clashes in the past in a decades-long conflict, which peaked between 2012 and 2013. The camel herders are suspected to be responsible for the deaths of at least four other Teri B Group Ranch members.

In another case, Dorcas Zighe vividly recalls how her husband, Keya Kinyume, was attacked and killed on October 5, 2012, while herding his cattle. She said justice has never prevailed since the killers are still at large. 

“I have lived in misery since the death of my husband. I hope that one day, the killers will be punished,” the resident of Sagalla said.

They have never signed any grazing agreement with us. Actually we were living in peace and tranquillity before they invaded our land
Teri B Group chairperson John Mngoda

NO CONVICTIONS

 

At Bamako village, another widow lives in grief. Violet Mwandoe lost her husband, Patrick Mwandoe, to the conflict with herders.  

 

Violet said Mwandoe was coming from grazing fields in the evening of November 5, 2012, when he was accosted by two men wielding machetes, who hacked him to death. 

“Nobody has been convicted following my husband’s death,” she teared up as she recounted the agony, saying she has lived in misery since the death of her husband. 

After Patrick’s death, another conflict between locals and herders left the area’s chairman of community policy dead a year later.

Mathew Gae Kitoro was killed on January 15, 2013, while he was leading other group ranch members in an operation to flush out the livestock. More than 500 camels had invaded the ranch and destroyed crops.

When contacted, Teri B Group chairperson John Mngoda denied claims that ranchers had leased the area to camel herders.

“They have never signed any grazing agreement with us. Actually we were living in peace and tranquillity before they invaded our land. We would like this issue to be dealt with expeditiously for the sake of Teri B Group Ranch members and the people of Taita Taveta at large,” he said.

Residents said herders graze their livestock in their farms, destroying crops and polluting communal water points. The herders threaten to kill local community members whenever they are asked to leave the farms.

Mariwenyi village elder Rose Kididi said, “We cannot fetch water because the camels are urinating on it. This is our only source of clean water and now we are being forced to purchase water from vendors.

“A few years ago, there was a waterborne disease outbreak in this area, which was caused by contamination of the water by camels.”

REVENGE ATTACKS

In June, following the murder of a farmer at Kirumbi in Sagalla ward, farmers ran berserk, slashing to death 11 camels in a retaliation attack. They claimed the government had failed to end the long-running conflict between residents and farmers.

Mohammed Ibrahim, the herd's owner, said he lost camels worth Sh1.6 million.

He said they had a valid agreement with local landowners to graze the herd on their lands.

“We have a right to graze there. We have leased some parcels of land to graze our livestock and, therefore, we should be allowed to peacefully herd there,” Mohammed said.

The herders moved to the county from North Eastern region in search of water and pasture. They said the attacks were politically instigated, noting that they had peacefully coexisted with the locals.

Mohammed Noor, a camel trader, termed the farmer’s death an unfortunate tragedy by an ignorant employee, who was barely two weeks old in the job.

Efforts by county government to flush out the livestock have always been fought by the herders.

In October last year, 252 camels were confiscated and held at Voi holding ground by the county government. However, herders confronted the enforcement officers immediately the police back-up withdrew. They demolished the holding area and freed the camels.

The herders also took the county government to court and a case is still pending. Consequently, the county government was barred from further removal of the camels.

A similar effort in 2013 was also met with resistance, as some of the herders went to court. Camel herders have been claiming they entered into a legal agreement with ranch owners, with some claiming to have paid millions of shillings to the ranchers.

Camel owners Mohamed Bashir, Mohammed Hassan, Rahow Malim and Kullow Ibrahim sought the Voi High Court to stop the county government and seven others from the flushing out of camel herders.

Taita Taveta county police commander Kiprotich Mohammed told Senate’s Security Committee that there are about 61 cases currently pending in court on illegal herding in the National Parks. Shockingly, all the assault and murder cases reported to the police by members of the public have not borne fruits.

Further, victims of numerous attacks might wait for much longer to get justice after the committee failed to grant key prayers in their petition filed by Teri B Group Ranch.

PROPOSED SOLUTION

All grazing agreements entered between individuals, ranch owners and livestock herders should be deposited with the county government, the county commissioner and the county police commander

- Senate Security Committee

SENATE'S TAKE

Though the committee acknowledged the herders could be behind the violence, it failed to recommend compensation for the losses incurred and eviction of the herders.

The Senate’s report, seen by the Star, also rebuked security organs in the county for failing to provide security to locals.

However, Taita Taveta Senator Johnes Mwaruma faulted the report in an exclusive interview with the Star.

“The report is generic and does not clearly state the avenues to follow for compensation,” he said.

“Without prosecuting the cases against the perpetrators of killings, there will be no avenue to enforce compensations of victims. If the perpetrators were prosecuted and found guilty, then compensation would have been possible.”

The committee’s vice chairman Johnstone Sakaja led the investigation following a petition filed by Teri B Group Ranch in April. 

“All grazing agreements entered between individuals, ranch owners and livestock herders should be deposited with the county government, the county commissioner and the county police commander,” the report reads.

The committee further recommends that grazing corridors be gazetted and protected as communal lands that are usually a rich source of dry season grazing. Taita Taveta county government should also come up with regulations to guide the utilisation of the grazing corridors.

Mwaruma said the county leadership will have to follow avenues provided in the report to push for implementation of the recommendations, even though he termed the options weak. 

“First and most important is the passage of the Rangelands Management Policy and a bill on the same. We shall then push for their implementation by the County Security Committee. As things stand now, there are no enforceable county laws to regulate animal movement and herding in rangelands,” the senator said.

Woman representative Lydia Haika recommended the illegal camel herders be flushed out of the county and be made to pay for the time they have illegally been grazing in the area.

She also asked the government to compensate the families of the people who were killed and those injured by the herders during their stay in the ranch.

Haika said the herders were posing a big threat to women, whom she said risked rape and sexual harassment.

The civil society, meanwhile, asked Chief Justice David Maraga and his DCI counterpart George Kinoti to order investigations on why justice has been delayed for the victims.

Taita Taveta Civil Society Organisation Network chairman Ezra Mdamu said camel owners colluded with government officials to protect the herders.

Edited by T Jalio