We must contain toxic politics for peace to thrive in Laikipia

OPINION |

The government is determined to end conflicts between pastoralists and private ranchers in Laikipia County and other parts of the country by confronting the real reasons behind the invasions into private property.

Periodic clashes between pastoralists and private ranchers have left a trail of death and destruction in Laikipia and other parts of the country. We have regrettably lost many lives and livestock in waves of cyclic conflicts. That the pattern of the internecine invasions and the causative factors is predictable, reinforces the necessity and urgency to bring it to a decisive end.

Over the years, my predecessors in the Interior ministry have variously engaged in the quest for lasting peace in these regions. The last official statement by the late Prof George Saitoti was to warn leaders of the dangers to national security that recurrent conflicts in pastoral regions portend. The late Gen Joseph Nkaissery spent many days negotiating peace among warring pastoral communities. Despite the leadership attention and the public resources committed, these lands have scarcely known tranquility. Necessity therefore dictates that we must do things differently to obtain better results.

At the heart of the solution must be an honest and bold appreciation of the real underlying causes fuelling the conflict. A common narrative is that drought triggers pastoralists’ instinctive search-and-find forays for pasture and water. This inevitably leads them to privately-owned and fenced off ranches. The resistance by ranch owners to the apparent ‘invasion’ and the pastoralists’ determination to force access to these resources becomes the perfect powder keg for deadly feuds.

Evidence gathered by security and intelligence agents however points to a more insidious agenda. The clashes, historically and as is manifesting now, tend to flare-up in the build-up to general elections, around key electoral processes such as voter registration or during high stake political discourses that invite residents’ decision-making. If you peer beneath the facade of drought-induced crises, there emerges a picture of a sinister plot that is informed by politics of conquest, ethnic supremacy, clan chauvinism and petty balkanisation motivated by individual political interests.

What stokes the violence is an entrenched culture of defiance at legitimate authority that has unfortunately become synonymous with heroism in the country. Engineered hooliganism has also become a modus operandi for a few leaders running away from accounting for the CDF, devolved monies and other public resources entrusted to them. We should smoke out those hiding behind cultural practices to mask leadership deficiencies and incompetence.

Political practice is the greatest agent of criminal activities in Kenya. Leaders exploit the poor by using them as a political collateral in supremacy conquests. Bloody seasonal disputes in pastoral lands point to incitement by sections of the political class that exploit violence to advance political, commercial and criminal interests. There is an unhealthy symbiosis between elective politics and crime in regions where electoral contests are organised around clan and ethnic showdown and exclusion. In such regions, drought becomes an alluring excuse for murder and mayhem. The political leaders profit from the violence while the masses pay the price with lost lives and destroyed livelihoods.

In Laikipia, the government has engaged ranchers and pastoralists in a bid to broker peaceful coexistence and, where possible, to share pasture and water resources in mutually beneficial arrangements. But many such agreements are breached by pastoralists who sneak in large herds of animals beyond the agreed number and for durations exceeding the stated period.

There are also endemic complaints of ranchers losing their animals to departing pastoralists in acts of plain and criminal theft. Uncontrolled pastoral herds also have the attendant risk of spreading diseases and rendering to waste investments in controlled breeding.

The sheer size of some of the herds and the logistics of coordinating their movement further suggests that not all the animals belong to innocent herdsmen in pursuit of pasture. Prominent names, including elected leaders, are known to own some of the biggest migratory herds. The financial and material rewards that the architects of the conflicts reap from perpetuating the violence means it’s not in their interests to stop it.

Livestock farming is a serious business that is undertaken by local and foreign investors. It creates jobs and supports food security. Regardless of the race, ethnicity or the nationality of whoever is practicing it, the government will support its existence. However, this shall be done under the auspices of the law and the right to private property.

We also encourage livestock farmers to take advantage of opportunities in investments and sector reforms introduced by the national governments to profit from their occupation. For instance, since its take-over by the Kenya Defence Forces, the Kenya Meat Commission now offers premium and prompt payments for livestock. Rather than risk bloody confrontations in search for scarce pasture or watch as animals waste away from hunger, pastoralists have the option of selling during drought to restock during seasons of plenty.

There are good examples of how visionary leadership can deliver communities from the shackles of mercantile violence and minimise perennial ethnic and cultural conflicts. In West Pokot, for instance, there is evidence that the county leadership has successfully managed to minimise these conflicts through well-thought out policies, investment in social empowerment and re-engineering of cultural practices like ownership of large unsustainable herds, that address the root cause of the conflicts.

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