Rains silence guns of Laikipia but tension over grazing land mounts
Persistent drought, population growth, land issues and negative ethnicity have been part of a slowburning cauldron of problems in the semiarid county
Herders are currently heading home as pasture has grown with the current rains
The gunshots may have gone quiet for now in Laikipia but experts warn that unless the government brings all interested parties to the negotiating table and figures out a solution to the crisis, the clashes could start all over again when the current rains stop.
Persistent drought, population growth, land issues and negative ethnicity have all been part of a slow-burning cauldron of problems in the county, only exploding this year due to political goading and a long dry period.
“The herders are currently heading home as pasture has grown with the current rains. But come the next dry season, they will be back. If the current friction is not dealt with decisively, there is nothing to stop violence from breaking out again,” said Dr Mordecai Ogada, an ecologist.
He added that although politicians may be inciting violence by dangling various promises on land to the herders, this is made worse by the fact that the herders’ way of life is under threat.
For decades, Laikipia has been part of traditional migratory routes for pastoralists, emerging as a major livestock market that connected the rangelands to the rest of the country.
“Herders from Samburu, Baringo, Marsabit and Isiolo would drive their animals to Laikipia and sell them to middlemen, who would then transport them to Nairobi for slaughter. There were known routes and holding grounds to allow these movements. These routes have now been fenced off and are inaccessible to pastoralists,” explained Dr Ogada.
Mr Jarso Mokku of the Drylands Learning and Capacity Building Initiative, thinks the current problem has been exacerbated by the government’s marginalisation of pastoralism, and the prevailing perception that it is not as valuable an economic activity as crop farming.
“There has been no national policy to support pastoralists. What we have seen instead is pastoralism land being used for other purposes, which interferes with movement of animals,” he said.
Wildlife conservancies and ranches in much of Laikipia, for example, occupy land that was open to migrating herders. The conservancies are now fenced off, re-purposed for wildlife, and marketed as ecotourism lodges. Laikipia has become one of Kenya’s most prominent tourist destinations, with visitors paying a pretty penny to view its wild, untamed beauty.
“These lodges occupy the best parts of the land where there is water and sufficient pasture. While we know that wildlife and livestock can co-exist peacefully, lodge owners do not want tourists to see cows and goats grazing alongside zebra and deer. It spoils the aesthetic they are trying to sell,” said Dr Ogada.
Samburu North Member of Parliament Alois Lentoimaga acknowledges that locals have long borne the brunt of fenced off land. “We have always had to request for grazing privileges in private ranches, for which we pay. A more sustainable solution would be to look into the leases held by these ranchers, and open up some of their land for communal grazing. It doesn’t make sense for one individual to fence off thousands of acres while our animals die of hunger,” he said.
A report published by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa in March this year cites encroachment on grazing lands as a key cause of the violence. It says the government is partly to blame. The report warns that alienation of land has spawned a “neo-pastoralist” existence where morans are turning to crime, including terrorism and human and drug trafficking. This is worsened by proliferation of small arms.
Pastoralists have guns because they feel that the government does not protect them enough. Also, they live in marginalised, unsafe areas.” Ms Jane Meriwas, executive director of Samburu Women Trust
A herdsman guides his cattle on the Nanyuki-rumuruti Road in Laikipia County this month. If an amicable solution to grazing rights is not found, the violent clashes could start all over again when the current rains stop.