Armed Herders Invade ‘I Dreamed of Africa’ Author’s Land in Kenya


Jeffrey Gettleman, New York Times

Date Published

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NAIROBI, Kenya — The woman who wrote “I Dreamed of Africa,” one of the most successful contemporary Africa books, is now living a nightmare.

The author, Kuki Gallmann, who was portrayed by Kim Basinger in the film version of the book, spoke by phone on Thursdayfrom a remote nature reserve in northern Kenya where she said she was surrounded by armed invaders and under siege.

“Right now as I speak to you, I can hear gunshots,” she said.

In the past several months, waves of cattle rustlers and herders have invaded farms and nature reserves in northern Kenya, including Ms. Gallmann’s, which is so big that it takes hours to cross by car. In recent days the violence has escalated, with invaders shooting at farmers and burning down houses, and Kenya’s security forces have been deployed to push the invaders out.

Ms. Gallmann, 73, is a well-known conservationist and a bit of a celebrity in Kenya. She said that in the past few days, marauding herders had burned down several buildings on her property and fired bullets at her staff, coming closer and closer to her house. The herders are attacking her property, she said, in revenge for the recent military activity against them.

According to a farmers association in Laikipia, the area most seriously affected, more than 30 people have been killed and hundreds have had property stolen or destroyed. This month, Tristan Voorspuy, a British citizen who lived in Laikipia, was shot to death while riding a horse and inspecting a ranch of which he was a co-owner.

The Laikipia Farmers’ Association said herders from outside Laikipia have driven more than 200,000 cattle, sheep and goats into the area in pursuit of pastureland. Much of Kenya is parched as a regional drought dries up grazing areas and rivers. The drought has put Somalia on the brink of famine and is endangering several other countries.

Politicians are widely suspected of instigating the violence in Laikipia. A member of Parliament was recently arrested on suspicion of inciting young herders to violently expel ranchers. Mathew Lempurkel, the politician who was arrested, denied the accusations and said he was being targeted because he belongs to the political opposition.

Ms. Gallmann’s best-selling memoir, “I Dreamed of Africa,” chronicles her passion for her life in East Africa, even after her husband died in a car crash and her son of a snakebite.

Originally from Italy and now a Kenyan citizen, Ms. Gallmann has spent decades battling poachers and trying to safeguard lions, leopards, elephants and other endangered wildlife in Laikipia. She said the invading herdsmen had destroyed one of her tractors and a secluded retreat on her property favored by tourists. A platoon of Kenyan soldiers has been based near her home, offering some protection, with a Humvee parked near her office.

This crisis was definitely not part of her dream of living in Africa, she said.

But she added: “We have every possible document to show this land is ours. We are not leaving it.”