Laikipia residents appeal for help as illegal herders ravage villages

Margaret Lokwang at Eighteen village in Laikipia.

Laikipia West residents have asked the government to step in and stop illegal herders terrorising them.

The area is suffering a new peak of insecurity, with villagers being attacked and killed by the herders.

The number, running at hundreds for the last four months is now moving to thousands, as herders move down from Northern Laikipia, according to witness accounts.

Resident Mary Njoroge said families are being broken up as women and children flee.

In the last two weeks, multiple villagers have been shot, and some killed.

On July 28, Interior CS Fred Matiang’i gave hundreds of herders from Isiolo, Samburu and Baringo who have invaded private ranches in Laikipia seven days to leave or they are forced out.

However, resident Wilson King'ori said security forces were based only in Northern Laikipia.

In Western Laikipia, Martin Kingori, 33, was shot and killed the next day, July 29.

His widow Ruth Wamboi, his sister Miriam Wangoi, and his aunt Grace Wanjiku say the death may have been stopped had there been enough security. Kingori was buried at his home on August 5.

The grave of Martin King'ori at his home in Laikipia.

In the same area, Margaret's husband, James Lokwang, 46, was shot by the illegal raiders on July 26. He was admitted to hospital in Nyahururu, a situation his family says strained them financially.

Another resident, Paul Njoroge, said he has been raided numerous times, with many of his neighbours and his wife fleeing Kamwenji village for safety.

He chose to remain behind to guard his home.

Mary Njoroge, who lives near the Mukatan Conservancy (formerly Laikipia Nature Conservancy), says she has been attacked multiple times, most recently on August 5.

She told The Standard herders came to her home and fired weapons as she and her family hid in the house.

Njoroge said on Saturday night, gunshots raided the air, with three people being shot.

"They are armed. We are not."

She said on Friday night, about 300 armed people raided Ng'ereta.

Njoroge says the community does not understand why the government is not protecting them while they have title deeds for their farms.

Like Wilson, she says security officers are present, but they do not offer the needed help.

"Officers are there, but they do nothing."

Those who have the means have opted to relocate.

With the general election slated for August 9 next year, Njoroge said politicians seeking their votes should act now.

"We don't need roads and schools. We need peace. We voted for leaders but they are not helping us."

The fighting over grazing land has been going on for years but has now escalated.

Since Matiang'i's call for action in Northern Laikipia, Western Laikipia has seen hundreds of more herders arrive, with thousands arriving in the last week.

At the same time, Dr Matiang’i said security forces will take over the 8,000-acre Kilimoni Farm to act as a buffer zone to keep off the herders, who he described as a source of insecurity.

Speaking when he met with local leaders in Naibor, Laikipia North, last month, Matiang’i said security in the area cannot be restored until the pastoralists leave.

Pastoralists account for the majority of the residents in Laikipia, with their population and livestock numbers growing rapidly, placing far more pressure on the available land.

The Laikipia terrain is a mixture of arid and semi-arid land used by ranchers, horticulturalists, and wildlife conservationists, as well as pastoralists. But it is livestock grazing that is dominant, and cattle holdings have grown faster than the population.

The 2009 population and housing census recorded 189,685 heads of cattle in the county. But by 2019, the figure had reached 294,620, according to the Laikipia Country Abstract, representing a rise of 55.3 per cent in a decade.

As the volume of livestock has risen, it has coincided with climate change, higher temperature, more drought, and the invasion of 147 invasive alien species of shrubs and plants that are further destroying grazing.

There has also been a proliferation in small arms ownership by the competing herders.

The communities urgently seek a joint force operation to remove armed herders and stem the killings as well as a GSU base in Kamur.