Laikipia rancher shot by suspected bandits dies in hospital

For Lucy Wambui Jennings, who succumbed to gunshot wounds at a Nyahururu hospital after she was attacked by suspected bandits, life in Laikipia ranches has been like in and out of hell.

Jennings, one of the prominent ranchers in Laikipia, was accosted by suspected bandits last Sunday as she was heading to church in Rimuruti town.

Her brother Njihia Mbugua said that Jennings succumbed to gunshot injuries at Pope Benedict Hospital on Thursday, where she was receiving treatment.

"It is true that she has died. The doctors had tried everything to save her life, even putting her on a life-saving machine. This is the biggest tragedy in our family,” he said.

Laikipia West Police Commander Benjamin Muhia said six suspects have so far been arrested in connection with Jennings's shooting.

Since she moved into her 1,000 acres ranch in Rumuruti in the 1970s, it has been invaded by illegal grazers several times.

The illegal grazers are believed to be from the neighbouring Baringo and Samburu counties.

Just like the nearby Laikipia Ranching Conservancy and Muggie Ranch, Jennings has suffered in the hands of illegal grazers.

She fled for dear life after bandits raided the ranch in 2010 and drove away 400 cattle.

Four years ago Jennings, chief security officer, Joseph Lokurchan, was shot dead by bandits who drove away 30 cattle.

Lokurchan was shot in the right hand and stomach at his house in Rumuruti town.

His widow, Esther Asimiti, said three suspects raided their home at around 8.30 pm while they were preparing to attend prayers. They threatened them before they shot Lokurchan.

"They invaded the home and ordered my husband to surrender and accused him of barring them from grazing their livestock in the ranch. That is when they shot at him, leaving him for the dead," said Asimiti.

The chief security officer was rushed to Rumuruti sub-county hospital and later referred to Nyahururu County Referral Hospital but was in critical condition that required specialized treatment.

The hospital referred Lokurchan to the Rift Valley Provincial General Home, where he died.

In an earlier interview with The Standard, Jennings said that illegal grazers had been invading her ranch with impunity.

"I have been to every government office trying to seek security, all in vain. I cannot even farm since they move in their livestock once my crops are ripe. I have been forced to abandon farming," she said.

Laikipia Farmers Association Chairman Martin Evans said the region has been enjoying peace since the deployment of security officers but there are fears this may not last after pastoral communities started trooping back to the area.

"We have been enjoying peace in the recent past, but the pastoral communities are now trooping back to the area. The government must be cautious so that what happened last year, where even ranchers were attacked does not reoccur," he said.

He said that a lasting solution to the problem must be sought so avert loss of lives and destruction of property.

Evans lamented that last year, ranchers lost business estimated at more than Sh500 million due to the violent invasion by the herders.

Maize and wheat farmers are worried that their crops might be destroyed if the herders are allowed into the county.

Laikipia County Commissioner Joseph Kanyiri said the government was aware that herders had started trooping back to Laikipia, and they were ready to prevent any conflict.

"It is true that they are now back to Laikipia in search of pasture since their counties have been hit by severe drought. However, we will not allow them to cause violence,” he said.

Kanyiri assured that security officers were on the ground to prevent criminal activities including invasion of private farms.

Laikipia Governor Joshua Irungu said that his administration was in contact with the other counties to seek a long-term solution to the problem, which includes the provision of fodder to the animals.

"We do not want a replica of events of last year. That is why the four counties have formed the Amaiya Triangle initiative to seek a solution to this problem,” he said.

Rumuruti Business Community Chairman Fredrick Thairu said this was not the first time the Jennings has been targeted by criminals.

Thairu regretted that the expansive Jennings Farm located several kilometres away from Rumuruti town, had been invaded by illegal grazers who had also built shanties.

Efforts to evict them from her farm have always ended up in courts as they claim ownership of part of the land.

Residents want security to be enhanced in areas where conflict between illegal grazers and landowners is rampant.

They are also calling on the government to deploy more National Police Reservists to areas prone to attacks to weed out illegal grazers and unlicensed firearms.

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