Private ranch owners in Laikipia and Samburu have accused the government of doing nothing to stop what they term as a brazen assault onto their properties by politicians.
Illegal herders, cattle rustlers and armed youth continue to run riot within the ranches and conservancies in what the land owners say is a bid to intimidate them into selling off the farms to prominent politicians. They accuse the politicians of inciting the herders of 135,000 head of cattle to invade the ranches.
“This is not about grass at a time of drought. Even it is was about grass, the impact on security is so grave that it must be dealt with by the authorities rather than tolerated indefinitely. The truth is that local politicians who believe they enjoy impunity are driving this crisis,” reads the ranchers’ statement.
Laikipia has in the recent past been the scene of vicious farm invasions and battles between private ranch owners and communities bordering them. As a result, people have been killed and property destroyed. In some instances, whole families have been displaced.
“These leaders are inciting uneducated youths who are holding thousands of unlicensed firearms. These youths have been organised into militia groups — there is no other way of describing them. Up to now they have been able to get away with shooting people, stealing livestock, destroying property and invading land with impunity,” Kuki Gallman, owner and operator of Ol ari Nyiro Conservancy, tells The Standard on Sunday.
She says all this is happening under the watch of the police.
“Unless the police reclaim their authority, things are only going to get worse. This so-called police operation since November 9 has yet to get underway. So far it has failed to tackle the problems,” says Gallman.
But Internal Security spokesperson Mwendwa Njoka insists the government is doing enough to stop the invasions.
“We have had a very successful disarmament programme in the region and its effects will soon be felt. But the complexity of the problem is not lost on us. We know these are politically-instigated conflicts and we are dealing with them,” says Njoka.
Politicians from the area have been accused of propagating expansionist theories on the basis that the leases of many of the farms have expired and the land needs to revert back to the local community.
“This is a baseless claim. And in cases where leases have indeed expired, the current owners are given the first right of renewal. If they do not want to renew their leases then the land reverts to the government. Not to the community,” says Njoka.
Investigations by The Standard on Sunday revealed that the numerous cattle raids in the northern frontier district and the invasions might be a way of creating chaos for illegal businesses such as gun running, arms trafficking as well human trafficking to flourish.
Arm smugglers orchestrate cattle and camel raids then sell off the animals at deflated prices to launder the money from the sale of firearms.
On December 9, a car in Kifuku ranch with policemen on board was attacked by two armed bandits. More than 20 bullets hit the vehicle. On the previous day, Agget Ranch was attacked and 10 bulls stolen. Some 17 steers were stolen from the nearby Loisaba ranch, 10 cows from Suiyan ranch and another 32 steers from Ol Maisor ranch.
Previous attempts by the government to stabilise the volatile region have all failed as successive efforts have almost always been undermined by local politics.
For instance, a government-ordered mop-up of illegal firearms in the area has failed to yield tangible results, with MPs, senators and governors urging their communities to stick to their guns.
The Laikipia Farmers Association says the cattle invasions are a political tool to intimidate the locals.
“These cattle are being used as a political weapon in tens of thousands. Despite the so-called operation this month and despite the onset of the rains, the cattle are still increasing in number. More are coming in,” the association says.
They say if the invasion is not stopped, investments running into billions of shillings are at risk.
Gallman says: “We build the local economy, whereas the inciters and their cohorts contribute nothing to it. How are we to deal with this situation?”