Drought, Political Maneuvering Blamed for Central Kenya’s Unrest

LAKIPIA, KENYA — 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 goats. 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 property.” 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….

Learn More