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

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - NATIONAL NEWS - BY JAC­QUE­LINE KUBANIA @jacqy_oh jkuba­nia@ke.na­tion­media.com

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.

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