Unending conflicts cost Laikipia billions in missed investment

Lodges at Ole Moran. PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • The over two decades confrontations many times revolve around the huge chunks of leased land with the fight pitting smallholder farmers, group ranch owners and white settlers on one side against herders from surrounding communities with illegal arms also contributing to escalation of violence.
  • Laikipia, occupied by both farmers and pastoralists in the northern, eastern and western constituencies, has mostly witnessed clashes in the northern parts which often spill to the west and the east.
  • While the volatile situation has scared away investors and frozen business activities in some areas, there are indigenous and foreign landowners in the area who are looking to tap into the region’s opportunities.

Perennial clashes in Laikipia County have resulted in billions of shillings in losses to investors denting the image of a region that boasts of many untapped investment opportunities.

The over two decades confrontations many times revolve around the huge chunks of leased land with the fight pitting smallholder farmers, group ranch owners and white settlers on one side against herders from surrounding communities with illegal arms also contributing to escalation of violence.

Laikipia, occupied by both farmers and pastoralists in the northern, eastern and western constituencies, has mostly witnessed clashes in the northern parts which often spill to the west and the east.

While the volatile situation has scared away investors and frozen business activities in some areas, there are indigenous and foreign landowners in the area who are looking to tap into the region’s opportunities.

Mr Wahome Muotia, an investor who is putting up an eco-lodge in Laikipia's Ol Moran, explains that “there is so much potential in Laikipia” that a lasting peace would mean greater investments, job opportunities to locals and economic growth for the county.

“When I bought this land in 2006, it was my goal to put up a resort city to attract tourists from around the globe, as well as Kenyan professionals living in towns but would love a break from the hustle and bustle of the city,” he says.

A dam at Ole Moran Ecolodge. PHOTO | COURTESY

He states that his goal is to have a mixed-use development complete with residential houses, a golf course, racetrack and commercial animal farming that would produce beef and mutton for export. However, he says that this would take a lot of effort with the recurrent bloody clashes in the area.

Almost 50 per cent of the county land mass is owned by large-scale ranchers — less than 30 of them. The county borders the pastoralist counties of Baringo, Samburu and Isiolo, where farmers own large herds of cattle. The herders perceive a lot of land owned by the ranchers as being idle.

Poverty, poor infrastructure and divergent cultural values have also been cited as contributors to the flames of discord among local people besides unoccupied land owned by absentee landlords who leave their land lying fallow for years which has proved tempting to pastoralists in search of open spaces.

However, just like Mr Muotia, other investors have seen opportunities in manufacturing and industrial processing that the area has.

The vastness of the region and the weather is favourable for large-scale livestock farming. There are opportunities that can be tapped in food, meat and leather processing. This is besides the beautiful landscapes and high concentration of wildlife that makes the area a good tourist attraction site.

The area also has a great potential for commercial fish farming which some people such as Mr Wahome have been doing. There are large dams in the area populated with catfish and tilapia.

Laikipia has animal conservancies and large ranches that many agree can be of import to the area’s wobbling economy.

“We have been set aback by the clashes that hit this place from time to time. They (pastoralists) come looking for pasture and water from our farms but in the process leave a lot of destruction,” says Mr Francis Kihara, Ole Moran Lodge manager.

Tapping into the region’s economic potential has been happening in a low scale majorly because of the clashes and poor infrastructure. And with January in sight, there are already fears that pastoralists will invade farms in search of water and pasture.

“During dry seasons, we open our gates to our neighbours so that they can get water and pasture for their animals. Unfortunately it never goes well,” states Mr Kihara.

Mr Kihara says that because of the large herds that most pastoralists have, they end up destroying the property and poisoning water points with pesticides, killing fish.

Mr Francis Kihara, Ole Moran Lodge manager. At their Ole Moran lodge, they have over 10,000 catfish, which they are hoping to increase to 30,000 by January. PHOTO | COURTESY

At their Ole Moran lodge, they have over 10,000 catfish, which they are hoping to increase to 30,000 by January. Mr Kihara says that large herds of animals are a threat to fish farming.

“The last time we hosted our neighbours during the dry season they also destroyed staff houses and cars we use to move around,” he avers.

While some landowners say that a return to normality and stability may not come soon as they wish, majority are determined to tap into the regions potential. The security needs in the county are great especially for local investors who feel neglected at the expense of large farm owners.

“A lasting solution can only be brought by the government. And one way of doing that is by expanding the infrastructure in the area including social amenities,” says Mr Muotia.

He urges the government to build hospitals, water boreholes, livestock markets and expand roads including the one connecting Sipili and Ol Moran Township, which will make the area accessible for security agencies and ease the stress of movement for investors in the area.

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