Poaching war forces pastoralists out of Kenya's ranches, national parks

Herders load livestock onto a truck after they were evicted by KWS and GSU officers from a private ranch
By GEOFFREY MOSOKU

NAIROBI, KENYA: Last year, the Cabinet, chaired by former President Kibaki, passed a resolution directing all herders who had entered the national parks to be evicted.

Among the areas targeted was Tsavo National Park, where pastoralists from the Maasai and Somali communities were grazing their cattle following drought in parts of the country.

The directive came at a time the country was gearing towards the General Election and was consequently halted due to fears of a political backlash from voters.

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But this month, the Government, through the National Security Council, ordered the eviction of pastoralists from parks citing rising incidents of poaching.

Fearing that they would fall victim, a group of pastoralists who occupy private ranches in Maungu area of Taita Taveta County, which is adjacent to Tsavo, moved to the High Court in Mombasa seeking orders to stop security agencies from evicting them.

They were granted the orders, but last week officers drawn from a combined force of Kenya Wildlife Service and GSU evicted the pastoralists, a move that has affected about 500,000 cattle and camel.  A Non-Governmental Organisation based in North Eastern, Kulun Foundation, visited the area last week and said police had ignored the court order and abused the Cabinet directive to forcefully remove herders who were operating outside the park.

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Last weekend we went to Maungu in Taveta to assess the situation after eviction of herders.

“People with valid leases, who have been keeping livestock in ranches, are being evicted by officers despite the court order. What we couldn’t understand is how a Government can disobey the orders of its own courts,” Halima Ali of Kulun Foundation protested.

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Halima says all Kenyans are entitled to live and do business anywhere in the country and vowed that the organisation would pursue all available legitimate channels to fight this injustice.

Discrimination

While terming the exercise as open discrimination, Halima, who contested the Wajir Women Rep seat, said security forces had targeted herders from the Somali community, while other ranches such as Sagala and Jajaba, owned by non-Somalis, had not been affected.

Chairman of the Foundation Khalif Abdinasir says more than 500,000 head of cattle and camel and about 5,000 families have been affected by ongoing evictions in Maungu area.

Yesterday, MPs Mohamed Diriye (Wajir South), Mohamed Elmi (Tarbaj) and Senator Yusuf Hajji (Garissa) joined the Kulun Foundation in protesting the evictions, saying it was not being done in a humane manner.

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Mr Diriye claimed that State officers were acting in contravention of the law in the pretext of fighting poaching.

“These are people who have legally leased ranches from probate land owners and inasmuch as we appreciate that poaching is a big problem, there is no justification to target pastoralists who have not occupied the area of a national park,” he added.

Mr Hajji and Mr Elmi, who are former Cabinet Secretaries, denied that the Cabinet had sanctioned eviction of pastoralists who occupy private ranches.

“The Cabinet directive was to evict people who were grazing livestock in National Parks and not private ranches, in a bid to check the upsurge of elephant poaching,” Elmi said.

Hajji added: “There was absolutely no Cabinet decision to remove people forcefully from private ranches they legally occupy.”

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The leaders have termed the operation a major economic blow as the affected headers have been forced to search for alternative areas to hold their livestock.

However, Taita Taveta Women Rep Joyce Lay said the eviction of herders was noble as it would help control movement of livestock in the counties.

“Some of these herders lease a ranch and say they are bringing one thousand cattle yet they end up bringing over 10,000 cattle that exert more pressure on the environment,” she said.

Ms Lay said some herders occupy communal land, which was being used for selfish gains by a group of people and the evictions would help restore the land to the owners.

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President Mwai Kibaki Poaching Tsavo