Laikipia has faced 20 years of fierce clashes with no end in sight

Police officers at Tumaini Academy in Ol Moran area in Laikipia county on September 13, 2021. [Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

No one has been able to pinpoint a specific reason as to why Laikipia residents have not had lasting peace for over two decades. 

If it is not ethnicity, cultural differences, political intolerance, it is historical land injustices or just criminal activity all of which involve violent raids and guns. 

The Sipili-Ol Moran road which is currently being upgraded to bitumen standards, opens up to villages surrounding Ol Moran township, an undoubtedly fertile region if the maize plantations is anything to go by. 

Majority of residents here own at least two acres of land on which they practice mixed farming but with limited number of livestock unlike their pastoralist neighbours in Baringo and Samburu counties. 

To the far north of the farmlands lies the over 88,000 acre private-owned Laikipia Nature Conservancy (LNC) which residents claim is a major hideout for bandits. 

The bandits who present themselves as peaceful herders set up manyattas deep in the conservancy and at its periphery from where they plan their attacks and retreat after deployment of security officers. 

Among the notable attacks was in January 1998 when politically instigated clashes erupted in Ol Moran, marked with a looting spree in villages of Survey, Miharati and Mirigwit.

The Akiwumi Commission of Inquiry which was formed to look into the tribal clashes in its report indicates that the attacks lasted for a week, between January 11 and January 18.

“On the night of January 11, armed youth raided Esther Njeri’s home in Ol Moran and stole 14 goats. In retaliation, a gang raided the home of Lechau Apalungeiya and killed his 40 goats,” the Akiwumi report reads. 

By January 23, 1998 then police spokesman Peter Kimanthi reported that 41 people had been killed and at least 60 people arrested. 

“Whoever planned and executed the clashes intended to punish and tame particular politicians and their supporters who exuded confidence and arrogance during the 1997 election campaigns and to teach them a lesson,” the Akiwumi report reads further. 

White settlers

Further, the report notes that the pastoralist communities claim to have been displaced by white settlers to pave way for their occupation in the area. The Government, in response through then Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner Nicholas Mberia, announced the elevation of Ol Moran from a location to a division on January 22 and Ol Moran Police Post to a police station. 

Media reports then indicated that the 1998 clashes left at least 50 people dead, some 2,500 displaced, five women raped and 78 homes burned. 

“We have elevated Ol Moran Division to a sub-county and Ol Moran Police Station to a Police Division headquarters,” said Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i on September 8, 2021. The announcement which came 23 years and seven months later followed two months of unrest that had left eight people dead and over 400 families displaced. 

In February 2004, the conflict recurred at a time when there was no political activity. In September of the same year, herders stormed private ranches three days after then Interior Security Minister Dr Chris Murungaru ordered them to vacate private farms with their animals. 

Two years later in 2006, an Anti-Stock Theft Police officer was killed, five youths shot dead at Maundu Ni Meri area in Laikipia North and 12 others killed in Ratia village in Laikipia North in clashes between herders and farmers. 

In March 2008, clashes erupted in Rumuruti following the killing of a cattle rustler at a time when drought had driven pastoralists into the area. Kenya Red Cross statistics indicated that at least 2,650 people were displaced.

“Fourteen people have been killed and 300 homes burnt,” said then Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe. 

In 2009, the Kanampio massacre which claimed 35 lives happened in Naibol village, Laikipia North after herders exchanged fire with police reservists. 

In November 2016, then Interior Security CS Joseph Nkaissery launched a disarmament exercise after six people were killed and hundreds of livestock stolen in Rumuruti. 

On March 5, ex-British military officer and Laikipia rancher Tristan Voorspuy was killed by herders who invaded his property and shot him as he was inspecting his lodges. 

Later in April, conservationist Kuki Gallman who owns Laikipia Nature Conservancy survived an attack with a gunshot wound in the stomach, barely a month after herders burnt down a lodge within the conservancy. 

In a bid to tame the attacks, President Uhuru Kenyatta deployed Kenya Defence Forces to Laikipia, Baringo and Elgeyo Marakwet counties as the Government gazetted 26 areas in Laikipia and Baringo as disturbed and dangerous. 

In July that year, then Laikipia North MP Mathew Lempurkel was arrested in connection with the attacks. He was charged in a Nairobi court with inciting the residents to violence and racial contempt. 

The attacks have persisted this year with Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya announcing that by September, at least 8 people had been killed and 29 homes burnt down.

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