by Sebastian Mwanza
(Sebastian Mwanza is media representative for the Africa Network for Animal Welfare)
Heavily armed pastoralist groups numbering about 10,000 from the Samburu, Baringo, Pokot and Isiolo districts of central Kenya, bringing more than 135,000 cattle with them, have over the past four months forcefully moved into ranches and conservancies in Laikipia county, located on the equator directly north of Nairobi, our national capital city.
Property has been destroyed, people and wildlife killed.
“Unequal distribution of resources”
Media reports tend to suggest that this is due to an ongoing drought or that the cattle raids are part of a traditional pastoral conflict. It is indeed true that the pastoralists’ march on private land is in part for grazing access and water. But the truth is, their actions are also a form of resistance to an unequal distribution of resources.
Land-based complaints that have existed for the last few decades have incited the recent invasions. Not to be forgotten that 2017 is an election year in Kenya, where such tactics are often used in political campaigns. Similar tactics have already been witnessed in Isiolo, an area that neighbors Laikipia, where conservancies are also being invaded by pastoralists, spurred on by local politicians.
The old grievances are an easy rallying cry. Many pastoralists in the area lost access to their ancestral pasture lands in the early 20th century, when British imperialists forcibly removed the Maasai pastoralist community from the Rift Valley and Laikipia. They were moved to the area now known as the Maasai Mara, a region extending into the Serengeti plains of Tanzania.
What followed created a medley of land tenure arrangements. Moving the Maasai enabled European settlement and agricultural production in the ecologically favorable conditions of the Rift Valley – an area central to the portion of Kenya known for much of the 20th century as the “White Highlands.”
Indigenous Africans were restricted to certain areas, largely based on ethnicity, much as Native Americans in the United States were forced onto reservations in what appeared to be the regions of least economic promise.
When Kenya won political independence in 1963, movement began toward establishing individual land rights and redistributing land that had been illegally taken from indigenous people. But these schemes were criticized for putting land into the hands of a few political elites. In Laikipia, for instance, most indigenous Kenyans were settled on smallholdings in the west, or remained landless. Group ranches such as Tiemamut, Lekurruki and Ngwesi, in which groups of people collectively own freehold title to land, were set up predominantly in the north, while some private ranches from the colonial period kept their land.
Over time wildlife conservancies became established. These were either former ranches that moved into wildlife management, or were set up by communities.
Laikipia has an abundance of wildlife and the conservancies act as a form of public/private partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service. They are mandated to manage Kenya’s wildlife and offer tourism opportunities which can attract premium prices. But the management of these conservation areas has often created conflict with some of the surrounding communities. There is deep disparity within Laikipia between those who reap the benefits of wildlife and those who bear the costs.
Many smallholders in Laikipia are situated outside the conservancies but within wildlife migratory corridors. Often they suffer both losses of livestock to predators and crop losses to grazing and browsing wildlife.
National Police Reservists
There are also concerns that privately run conservancies allow concentration of large tracts of land and valuable wildlife-related economic activities in the hands of just a few individuals.
Also disconcerting is the use of National Police Reservists by private conservancies. These are private employees, yet armed by the government through the National Police Reservists initiative for the purpose of maintaining “wildlife security.”
The National Police Reservists are empowered to use violence to stop poaching, and to act in security matters beyond the conservancy of their employment, for example in tracking stolen cattle. This has the potential to escalate conflict between private and public interests.
Today the conflicts are also overlaid with corruption – particularly the misappropriation of funds that could have been used for rural development. Instead they serve political interests, with some politicians benefiting financially from the raids on ranches and conservancies.
The raids have become a political tool for those looking for votes in exchange for water and pasture. And so, fueled by the proliferation of arms within pastoral communities, some politicians reportedly use their positions to incite their constituents to take up arms and lay blame for the lack of resources elsewhere. Cattle raids are therefore often perpetrated by criminal gangs with links to corrupt government or political actors.
Murder & disarmament
Laikipia North member of parliament Mathew Lempurkel was recently arrested and released after allegations came up that he was behind the attacks on the Suyian and Sosian ranches by herdsmen that brought the murder of Tristan Voorspuy, a British citizen and a father of two. Voorspuy, shot dead on March 5, 2017, was the majority shareholder and founder of the Sosian conservancy which 15 years ago had become a degraded and almost worthless ranch.
Previous disarmament programs have sought to address the problem of arms proliferation in Laikipia, but have been criticized for excessive use of force by police and military personnel. These programs have also been criticized for leaving disarmed communities vulnerable to attack by those communities that have not been disarmed.
The epicenter of these invasions has been in Laikipia North, but violence spills over into both Laikipia East and West.
Plots & rumors
One of the residents was quoted by a local newspaper as saying, “What we are seeing is the implementation of a plan made before the 2013 elections, when the Samburu and Pokot resolved their 2006-09 feud by agreeing to attack everybody else. It was agreed the Pokot would get everything west of the Rumuruti-Maralal road and the Samburu would take everything to the east. They have often worked together, bringing in Pokot as shock troops in the invasion of Segera for example, but they are broadly sticking to this territorial carve-up.”
The source went on to say that what is being witnessed was all planned years ago, and is designed to peak in the run-up to the elections, to achieve a trade-off of votes in exchange for grass and land grabs, the seizure of Laikipia by outsiders, and the expulsion of rival tribes, ranchers and conservancies.
Whether any of this is literally true or not, it is widely perceived to be true, and is part of the background that must be considered in negotiating any lasting peace.
In Kenya, sport hunting remains banned. Hunting proponents have argued that Kenya’s wildlife has declined due to Kenya’s now 40-year-old hunting ban, since without being able to sell hunting rights, landowners supposedly have little incentive to conserve wild animals.
This argument is naïve, and not just a little bit disingenuous, in view that Kenya has been enriched by wildlife tourism for generations, while many nations that have promoted trophy hunting have remained mired in poverty or have even slipped backward from the economic progress they once appeared to be making.
Wild animals throughout Africa, especially rhinos, elephants, and pangolins, are presently under enormous strain from poachers serving international organized crime syndicates.
These ‘syndicates’ seem protected and immune from authorities in their chosen strong-hold within the Golden Triangle, the forested borderlands between Laos, Thailand, Myanmar and China.
Kenya is not exempt from the impact of poaching for the Asian syndicates, together with illegal bush meat trafficking to serve urban demand for traditional foods, a burgeoning population encroaching on land space, over-grazing of livestock, and therefore an increased probability of human/wildlife conflict.
Hence, with the over-grazing of livestock in Laikipia and the two Tsavo National parks, with have experienced similar drought-driven invasions by pastoralists in recent years, one cannot rule out the possibility of covert involvement by people whose goals include trying to have the Kenyan ban on sport hunting ban lifted.
A solution to both Laikipia & Tsavo?
But the Laikipia and Tsavo incidents are only the most recent of many pastoralist incursions into privately held ranches and land nominally reserved for wildlife during the past few decades. Continual framing discussion of these invasions as responses to drought fail to address the underlying dimensions of resource distribution. Short-term programs to address famine and drought do not guard against future invasions.
They will continue to occur in the absence of genuine conversations about issues of governance, the sharing of benefits, and longterm resource management in Kenya. Lack of rainfall, the influence of global warming, and other adverse ecological conditions simply act to exacerbate the tensions.
“Move with speed”
The Kenyan government and other relevant stakeholders should move with speed to address governance issues such as corruption, land use policy, security, management of resources and development within rural areas.
Otherwise the conflicts Kenya is now experiencing will continue to degrade our national economy, our wildlife habitat, and wildlife-related tourism.