Drought, Political Maneuvering Blamed for Central Unrest (Kenya)


Jill Craig, Voice of America via AllAfrica

Date Published

The smell of rotting animals permeates the air in parts of central
Kenya’s Laikipia area, as lurking vultures and hyenas seem to be the
only ones benefiting from the drought.

Dead elephants, buffaloes, zebras, giraffes, cattle, sheep and goats
dot the landscape. While some died from the drought, some of the
wildlife was shot or speared to death by armed herders in search of
pasture and water for their tens of thousands of cattle, sheep and

Ranch and conservancy owners say these herders are invading their
private property — breaking fences, stealing cattle, using grass and
water meant for their livestock and their neighbors’ livestock,
cutting down olive trees for the leaves, even killing the owner of
Sosian ranch in March when he went to check on burned houses. About 35
people have died in the unrest.

“This is not the first dry season we’ve had,” said Martin Evans,
chairman of the Laikipia Farmers’ Association and the owner of Ol
Maisor farm. “And when this thing happened, it wasn’t a matter of
drought. It was a normal rainy season when they came in. This is a
politically instigated invasion, as far as we can see. They’re using
the cattle as a tool, as a battering ram, to just take over private

As Kenya’s August general elections approach, many believe politicians
are drumming up constituent support by encouraging these armed herders
to take what they want.

“We are very much worried because we can see this issue is political.
This is not illegal grazing, this is abnormal illegal grazing,” said
Mamo Abdullahi Abdi, 42, a resident of Kinamba village, next to Ol
Maisor. “I know, even for us to vote in this general election, it is
sad for us to vote because they want to scare us so these people with
illegal guns will take over Laikipia North constituency.”

Locals vs. outsiders

And during this election year, some politicians have told their
followers that white landowners should leave, even stating,
incorrectly, that their leases have expired.

Daniel Eshikon Lorangen, the area chief of Lonyek village, said
politicians should not incite people with such misinformation. He said
that because Kenya’s government owns the country’s land, only the
government can renegotiate leases when they expire. It is not a
decision to be made by herders who illegally enter private property.

“So for that, I think Kenya really respects the rule of the law, and
we need to respect that,” said Lorangen.

But Tiziana Wangui, 35, and other villagers in Kinamba do not want
landowners like their neighbor Evans to leave, because they said he
helps them during difficult times.

“Especially Martin Evans, he was born here, we buried his father …
here, so this is their land. This is his home. Their children are our
schoolmates. We schooled together here, so I don’t think they have
anywhere else to go,” said Wangui.

Perhaps surprisingly, even some of the northern pastoralists said they
appreciated the ranchers.

Rueben Lokolongolo, 47, a Pokot herder from Lokichogio in northwest
Kenya, brought his cattle to graze in Mugie Ranch and Conservancy in

“I’m not happy that some people are saying the white people should
leave, because the ranchers are helping us,” said Lokolongolo. “We
want them to stay here so that in another drought, we can still come
back and find the grass here.”

But David Lokai, another Kinamba resident, said the herders had
disrupted grazing agreements that were in place between the ranchers
and the locals, since they gain access to grass and water by force and
do not pay. Because resources are finite, the local people find there
is no longer enough pasture and water for their animals.

New social rules

“The drought has become so wild that nobody can sustain,” said Lokai.
“Because from the neighborhood counties, all have crowded here for
search of grass, good pasture, water, and now they have not come in
good harmony, because we’ve been living here. Our neighbors here have
been providing our grass, but under certain pay. But now, they have
come without negotiation, they’ve been coming to strike. It’s like
they are forcing things, which has never been there before.”

After years of geologic studies and exploration of the Earth and its 7
continents, another continent has been discovered: Zealandia.

Lokolongolo, however, argued that that he and the other herders were
just doing the best they could to survive, given difficult

“I know that I’m not doing the right thing, being on somebody else’s
ranch, and I’m not happy the way that people see me negatively,” he
said. “But right now, it’s my only option because my cows are dying.”

Overgrazing and a lack of long-term planning have been blamed for the
northern rangelands’ lack of productivity. Josh Perrett, general
manager of Mugie Ranch, said there was too much livestock for the land
to accommodate. He recommended the government consider tagging and
chipping livestock, to regulate who has what animals.

“It is a massive problem countrywide, and it’s not just Laikipia,”
Perrett said. “It’s everywhere. It’s Tsavo, it’s Amboseli, it’s the
[Masai] Mara. It’s a very complicated situation because it is
pastoralists, it is their livelihood … but it should be looked at
seriously because it is a massive problem. … There’s no controls.”

The marked increase in illegal firearms remains one of the biggest
immediate issues for all who live in the area, including James Osiago,
a former gardener at Sosian ranch, who has been unemployed since its
closure as a result of the violence.

“Yeah, they have guns. I have seen with my own eyes — this is not a
story. About 2,000 moran [warriors], heavily armed with rifles, M-16s,
G-3s, AK-47s. These people, the way you saw them, you think this is a
militia group, not only illegal grazers,” said Osiago.

Paul Njoroge Mwura, founder and secretary of the Semi-Arid Conservancy
Neighbors organization, lives in Kamonje village, near the Laikipia
Nature Conservancy. He said he lives in fear of the armed herders, who
he believes are trying to displace him and his neighbors from their

“This is the kind of life we are living here,” said Njoroge. “People
have been wondering what is happening here. In the evenings, you find
no one is moving, even if you have lights. Sometimes you put every
light out. You don’t want them to know what you are doing in your
home. Like in my own house, I don’t have windows, I sealed everything,
because this is the point they shoot the gun, and I want my family

Military deployment

Kenya’s government announced it would send defense forces to Laikipia
and other areas to remove illegal firearms and restore order. People
here are urging the soldiers to use restraint, since they say they
will be the ones left to deal with the aftermath.

“So, they should actually come, come to the ground and actually
appoint some leaders, locals, from the ground, to work with the KDF
[Kenya Defense Forces], so the locals will determine the person who is
being hunted and who is not being hunted,” said Robert Lochukut,
chairman of Lonyek village, who believes soldiers might mistake locals
for armed herders if proper care is not taken.

However, Pokot herder Kiptiyois Ngoriakow, 28, who is grazing his
cattle on Mugie Ranch, does not want the KDF to deploy.

“I think the government should send the KDF to other places, because
this is not the only place where crime is happening,” Ngoriakow said.
“Instead of sending the KDF, the government should be providing us
with food, and provide us with water, as we struggle to take care of
our livestock.”

Laikipia plays a critical role in conservation and tourism in the
country, said Peter Hetz, executive director of the Laikipia Wildlife
Forum. He said private lands in Laikipia, including those owned by
individuals and corporate or trust owners, as well as group ranches,
make up 68 percent of the total area of Laikipia, and that the
effectiveness of wildlife conservation had been demonstrated in these

“It’s the most successful conservation example in this country,” said
Hetz. “The Masai Mara is renowned for its abundance of wildlife during
the migration, but there’s more wildlife and more endangered wildlife
kept safe in Laikipia than in any other place in Kenya.”

Although a long-term solution is key to fixing the problems here, for
now, people are just hoping the rains will come soon.