The Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) which is part of a multi-agency security team deployed to the volatile Laikipia County has embarked on digging a trench around the Laikipia Nature Conservancy (LNC).
Under the leadership of Second Brigade Commander Brigadier Peter Asava, the KDF has been conducting engagement sessions with the residents, with a view of finding lasting solutions.
The residents highlighted banditry attacks and human-wildlife conflict especially during drought and harvest seasons as a major challenge to their livelihoods every year.
Brigadier Asava who met elders at 18 Village in Kinamba said that the ongoing excavation of the trench along the LNC border had been positively received by the residents.
“Elders from villages of the larger Ng’arua Division have acknowledged the efforts being undertaken. They singled out the trench being dug by the KDF as a great project that will mitigate the threat posed by bandits,” said Asava.
LNC which spans over 88,000 acres is a privately owned ranch belonging to conservationist Kuki Gallman has been a major hideout for bandits terrorizing residents of Laikipia West and Laikipia North.
In the past two months, at least eleven lives have been lost among them a National Police Reservist (NPR) after being shot by bandits posing as herders in search of pasture and water in the region.
Hundreds of livestock have also been stolen by the bandits who drive them into the conservancy making it hard for recovery efforts due to thick plantations and unfriendly terrain.
Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi thanked the national government for the imitative noting that it will go a long way in complementing other measures put in place.
"Any effort that is humanly possible and aimed at thwarting banditry activity is welcome. This is the beginning of a new phase of stemming insecurity in the region," said Ndiritu.
Ol Moran Catholic Parish Priest Fr Giaccomo Basso lauded the project, saying they have been pushing for it over the years and will be a great reprieve to the residents.
“We have been lobbying for that trench for years to tame both banditry attacks and human-wildlife conflict. We are glad that this is coming to realization through government support,” said Fr Basso.
He pointed out that bandits have been taking advantage of the proximity of the conservancy to conduct their attacks despite the presence of security forces knowing that they have an easy way out.
“The bandits attack and dash into the thick conservancy by the time security officers respond. The trench will now go a long way in making such tactics impossible for them,” said Fr Basso.
He added that they hope the trench will be deep and wide enough to deter them from moving their livestock or those stolen from the villages in and out of the conservancy.
“If done well, it will be useless for bandits to steal livestock since they will not manage to cross with them. We have confidence that this project will be of great help to our people,” he said.
He recounted how he recently encountered a herd of elephants that had strayed into the villages following the ongoing security operation within the conservancy.
“The trench will also help in reducing human-wildlife conflict. Elephants, zebras and buffaloes are among the most common threats, especially during harvesting season. They will no longer stray into human settlements,” said Basso.
Invasion of the conservancy by illegal herders turned bandits saw the manager suspend its programme of fattening livestock belonging to the communities through structured grazing.
The LNC had started the programme earlier this year with 1,400 cattle as a way of empowering the local community with a target of increasing the number 4,000 by December.
An operation to flush out the bandits who have sustained their attacks on the neighboring villages is ongoing.
Last week, Interior Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiang’i announced an enhancement of the security operation which includes ground and aerial surveillance through additional security officers and equipment.
“An immediate enhancement of the ongoing security operation will be undertaken to include a crack operation in the affected area. Additional special forces and equipment under the heightened command will be deployed to the operation,” said Matiang’i.
Continued harboring of criminals saw the local leaders and residents call on the government to take over management of the conservancy noting that the private owners had no capacity to bar illegal herders from invading it and using it to plot attacks.