I liked the way crack police units and special forces literally flooded the Ol-Moran area of Laikipia after bandit attacks erupted there recently. Yes, these were premeditated attacks, not clashes in the inter-communal sense we know them.
The right optics of armoured paramilitary vehicles on patrol and helicopters circling above were communicated to those who habitually provoke and carry out this kind of ethnic mayhem in other places. I am sure they took note. It was a splendid display of government power.
These violent incidents always happen before elections, or immediately afterwards. Let’s see if we’ll witness similar nonsense in other known trouble spots as we head to the general election next year.
At the beginning, Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi had complained of a disjointed national government response. The chain of command in the different security units sent to enforce peace was not well coordinated at first. Eventually this was sorted out and the security forces were soon in full control of the situation. This was much appreciated by the residents. The governor, too, acknowledged this.
The lingering problem, however, is this: even after securing the immediate safety of the area, it is not yet certain whether the security forces have flushed out all the bandits from their hideouts.
This explains the initial reluctance of residents who had sought refuge in church compounds to return to their homes and farms. The urgent job now is to destroy the brigands. Completely. Ruthlessly. Strike a blow at these outlaws which they'll never forget. They must not be allowed to slink away unscathed, then they wait until security is relaxed to return and terrorise the residents again.
Meanwhile, the authorities have a full plate in ensuring the lives of the residents get back to normalcy as quickly as possible. Schools were to reopen last week. Rebuilding of destroyed homes commenced – at government expense. Provision of humanitarian necessities like food was ongoing, with the Red Cross assisting.
The ground-breaking for new police posts was being done. Soon, a permanent army camp is to be established in Ol-Moran.
The ethnic mix in Laikipia is Kikuyu, Maasai, Samburu, Kisii, Tugen, Turkana and Somali. Some are farmers, others traders, others herders. The government has had an on-and-off policy of arming frontier pastoralists. The intention was initially good: to have them protect themselves from armed cattle rustlers from neighbouring countries. Then bad things set in. The same government-issue firearms started being used for cattle theft by the beneficiaries. Also, access to illegal firearms was becoming easy due to the porous borders in the frontier districts.
Cattle rustling has an old history in the frontier districts. It later became a very profitable underground business. There is always a ready black market for stolen livestock. Politicians and other big names got involved. They fan and even help finance the cattle raids.
Enter the so-called conservancies. They do a highly lucrative business in wildlife. They are run by whites. They cover a huge chunk of Laikipia. One of them, owned by a certain Ms Kuki Gallman, covers 100,000 acres. Another that is nearly as big is run by the Ian Craig family. It's here Prince William of England likes to come and play.
The conservancies have an unspoken live-and-let-live pact with pastoralists. When drought hits, they'll occasionally but grudgingly allow them to water their herds in their ranches. It's a love-hate relationship. But farmers accuse some ranchers of condoning and even being complicit in cattle theft.
The conservancies like to complain, among other things, that the pastoralist-owned livestock that strays into their ranches spread disease to the wildlife. Forcible destocking, which is actually what cattle raiders do to smallholder farms in Laikipia, creates more space (deliberately?) for the herders and for the wildlife ranches.
Cattle raiders who pose as herders often have ulterior motives. By attacking and sometimes killing their victims, they intentionally want to run them out of Laikipia. Drought must also not be an excuse to maim and kill. How will burning a farmer's house and destroying her food granary make water and pasture materialise for their livestock herds?
In the long-term, pastoralism as a lifestyle must be systematically discouraged. The government should introduce programmes and incentives to turn this lifestyle into a more sedentary way of life. Seek ways to introduce the pastoralists to farming or arm them with other skills.
If they must keep their cattle herds, let them do so in controlled, ranch-style environments where boundaries are clearly demarcated.
Let the government introduce drought mitigation measures in the arid and semi-arid lands that would prevent pastoralists from venturing into settled farmlands in desperate search of pasture and water for their animals. Roaming all over the place into other people's farms and grazing on their crops has always been a recipe for conflict.
A lifestyle change can be done, though it will require massive investment. This can be effected gradually.
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Catholic bishops are probably taking on more than they can chew in seeking to mediate the rift between the President and his deputy. In the same breath William Ruto claimed he was willing to submit "unconditionally" to the mediation, he continued to trash the March 9, 2018 Handshake. You can't have your cake and eat it. The bishops should busy themselves with other things like fighting rampant corruption in government. And ensuring their church pulpits are not used as platforms to politick by corrupt politicians.