Illiterate youth, illegal guns: MP explains Laikipia invasions

Sarah Lekorere says politicians stir ethnic conflicts during elections

In Summary

• Laikipia North MP says attacks aim to instil fear so residents flee, outsiders take over

• This arising after historical land injustices, marginalisation and neglect of pastoralism

Laikipia North MP Sarah Lekorere
Laikipia North MP Sarah Lekorere
Image: FILE

A day after Interior CS Fred Matiang’i visited Laikipia county to address insecurity, a man riding a bicycle was shot dead.

Laikipia North MP Sarah Lekorere characterises this as an act of defiance. “It is telling the government that you do not have teeth, and if you do, you cannot bite,” she said.

Lekorere spoke to the Star about the invasion of private lands in the region, the underlying issues and the hand of politicians in the violence.

What is the problem in Laikipia currently, especially on private conservancies?

Sarah Lekorere: The problem in Laikipia currently is not only on private conservancies, per se. It is on community land, private conservancies and small agricultural holdings farms. There is a massive movement of animals from down north, mainly from Samburu East and Isiolo North and some parts of Tiaty, into Laikipia.

And the main problem is not even the movement of animals, it is the style in which these animals are moving. This style is where these herders are coming heavily armed and terrorising residents. In fact, as we speak one person was shot dead at Wangwachi last evening, a day after the minister had given his express orders for these people with illegal firearms to either surrender or move out of Laikipia. So that one in itself says there is a lot of arrogance from these people with illegal firearms who are grazing everywhere, regardless of what plans the owners of these conservancies and community lands and smallholdings have put in place. They are even grazing their animals on people’s small shambas, and some of these peasant farmers rely on those two, three acres to feed their families and educate their children. Actually, it is a bigger problem than what we are just seeing on the face of it.

Are these attackers outsiders or local people?

They are outsiders. You know currently, there has been prolonged drought in Laikipia and especially on the eastern part of it because the western side has received some rains since early this month. The eastern side of Laikipia is quite dry but if you look at the ranches and conservancies which are on the eastern side of Ewaso Ng’iro, there is no invasion because the conservancies have an arrangement with the local communities on how they allow them some grazing window during drought. I can confidently say it is not the locals who are invading but people from outside Laikipia.

Why do the police officers not disarm the attackers?

I do not want to talk about police officers because I have never been one and the law is very clear that firearms should only be possessed by security agencies or those civilians who are licensed to carry firearms, and so anything outside that is illegal. I think for citizens of this country to be safe, these guns should be mopped up by the government. I do not know whether it is the capacity they lack or the willingness, I have never understood why these firearms should not be repossessed from these people who are carrying them and terrorising residents.

What do you think about the conservancies, how many are they, community and privately owned?

For the community conservancies, I know we have 13 group ranches — formerly group ranches because they are now transitioning to community land as per the Land Act of 2016, and some of them have been registered and others are in the process. They are Ilng’wesi, Lekuruki, Makurian, Kurikuri, Morupusi, Ilpolei, Monishoi, Kijabe, Koija, Mosul, Tiamamut and others all the way from Ngare Ndare river on a straight line to Ewaso Ng’iro river.

We have a number of private conservancies and what I think about the future of these conservancies is that: one, it is high time we look at conservation not as a foreign thing but as a thing we all need to conserve the wildlife and our rangelands.

Actually, why we are seeing a lot of cattle moving from Samburu and Isiolo is because, for a very long time, there has been no plan on grazing. Samburu is almost twice as big as Laikipia but because they overgrazed their land, there was no controlled grazing and settlement, over time they have degraded their land. If we allow that to happen in Laikipia, over time it will also be completely degraded just like Samburu and Isiolo are, and then we do not know where to move next. To me conservation is about our livelihoods. For us to continue having cattle as cattle keepers, we must do conservation so as at least we can have enough pastures for our livestock.

Two, we have communities doing tourism. We have a lodge at Ilng’wesi run and owned by the community. We have an exclusive lodge at Ol Lentile owned by the community, though they have leased to an investor with a lot of benefit coming back to the community. We have lodges down at Koija, the Koija Star beds. We have the Olng’aboli lodge, which is actually owned and managed by women of Ilmotiok group ranch.

These lodges have diversified the livelihood and income of these communities because, rather than depending on the livestock alone, there is something else coming out from tourism. Locals have been employed in those lodges, which is job creation, and there is money coming in from tourism which is going into community projects mostly in the education sector. Personally, I believe education is one of the things that will open up Laikipia North and to some extent, the larger North, where the pastoralists are found. If their children have access to education, at least we will finally get out of this kind of culture of cattle rustling, early marriages, moranism, among others. To me, conservation is something that will have a positive impact on the community in the long run.

We have witnessed these attacks mostly during the electioneering period. Do they have anything to do with politics?

They have a lot and everything to do with politics. There is a lot of ethnic balkanisation. All the aspirants who ran political seat in Laikipia North, a lot of them have actually nothing to sell to the electorate other than mobilising their ethnic communities versus that ethnic community. Some of them are actually trying to displace other communities so they can expand to some of these spaces occupied by these communities, and the best way to do this is to instil fear and terrorise the communities.

For the last four years, we have not had incidents in Laikipia North and personally, I have put a lot of effort and resources into bringing all the communities together and eliminating the seed that was planted initially of political balkanisation of pitting communities against the other. We have tried them together. We have equalised their development and given them forums to interact. Those who do not believe in that are trying to bring that kind of political balkanisation, whereby everybody is in a hurry to mobilise their ethnic group to beat these other ethnic groups.

Number two, the issue of land is a very emotive issue. It is an easy tool which activists and politicians use to stir the emotions of people, and what other better time to do that other than during the electioneering period?

The issue of land is a very emotive issue. It is an easy tool which activists and politicians use to stir the emotions of people, and what other better time to do that other than during the electioneering period?
Sarah Lekorere

The Maa community has been complaining of the 99-year lease between them and the colonialists, which they say expired several years ago. What is your take?

Well, my take is that we cannot run away from historical injustices. I come from that community myself and legally, when the colonialists were leaving, the land that was being given back to the government was supposed to revert back to the local community, which did not happen and that is where the rain started beating us. The first Jomo Kenyatta administration did not give that land to the local communities who were displaced by the white people, while the successive governments also failed.

The legal way of following the historical injustices is clear. It is not pitting this citizen against the other citizen. The Constitution is very clear: the National Land Commission was created to legally look into matters of historical land injustices and other injustices. I believe there are ways, like with the Aborigines of Australia, where the government must not necessarily give that land back to the people but it can compensate people through other ways. For instance, if there is a land whose lease has expired, then instead of renewing the lease or giving to other hands, revert it back to that community.

Number two, as a result of historical injustices, such communities, especially those living north of Laikipia, have been neglected for so long. There are no schools, there is no physical infrastructure like the roads, there are no basic facilities like hospitals — the government can compensate in that manner. For me, I think there are genuine claims for historical injustices, but it’s only being politicised and people are not using the right processes and the right channels to follow up these things.

A man was shot dead in Laikipia last week a day after Interior CS Fred Matiang’i visited to address insecurity. What message could these illegal herders be sending to the government?

Precisely. I said earlier, this thing is not about cattle theft because this person was riding on a bicycle and they stole nothing from him. It is to instil fear so that those people can vacate the area and others can settle and use their shambas as they wish.

Number two, I think it is also arrogance from the side of these criminals who are holding illegal firearms. It is telling the government that “you do not have teeth” and if you do, you cannot bite.

What do you think is the long-term solution to these problems in Laikipia?

Personally, I think we have two main issues causing problems in Laikipia. Number one, absentee landlords. We have these open spaces that are not occupied by anybody, which actually attract people all over and ultimately, they become fertile grounds for invasion. If the government can do two things: One, compulsorily acquire these vast lands and pay back the owners. Then take over and resettle those people who are already settled there and have nowhere else to go. Because as long as it is a no man’s land, it will continue to attract anybody who wants to come to Laikipia, either with good or bad motives.

Number two, pastoralism is a very important way of life, and it is unfortunate because it looks like the national and county governments do not recognise nomadic pastoralism like they do recognise coffee, miraa among other crops as foreign exchange earners. It is high time the national and county governments put infrastructure in place to ensure pastoralists do pastoralism as a profitable way of life, and this can only be done if there is a good market for the livestock.

Then we have to address the question of diminishing rangelands because we want to continue keeping cows and we are degrading lands, and you know the livestock cannot feed on stone or soil. Unless we now come up with serious plans of rotational grazing, range rehabilitation, provision of water among other measures as a government, we cannot solve some of these problems. You find in some places there is pasture but no water and people and their livestock move for long distances in search of water. So there is a need to put infrastructure.

Again, most importantly, why we have a lot of youths being hired by politicians to do some of this hooliganism is because of the illiteracy levels among the pastoral communities. And personally, I believe if education was provided for, then in the very near future, the politicians will lack the uneducated youths to use the way they want. The national government, county government and private investors must work together to make sure they invest in education to change the thinking of these people and their lifestyle. It is also very important for community land owners, private land owners and the neighbouring communities to come together when it is calm and look for a task force that will look for a lasting solution. We do not just sit and wait for these things to erupt and start calling in for the interior cabinet secretary to come and quell the violence because ultimately the solution is within us. If we do not get the solution from within, then there is very little the ministry of interior can do to bring a long-lasting solution.

Edited by T Jalio

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