Chaos rocked Rumuruti town on Tuesday as a section of farmers clashed with herders who sought to forcefully graze their animals on their land, marking the spread of a conflict that has for the past two weeks been confined in a smaller area within the expansive Laikipia County.
The residents paralysed business in the busy town for the better part of the day, as they forcefully chased away pastoralists who had early morning arrived at the Rumuruti livestock market. The protesters barricaded the Nyahururu-Rumuruti–Maralal road and set ablaze several motorcycles suspected to belong to the herders.
Tension was also building up in Kinamba and Pesi towns in Laikipia, Leshao Pondo Ward in Nyandarua County and parts of Baringo County, as residents repulsed armed herders who were fleeing from security forces forcing them out of Olmoran and parts of the Laikipia Nature Conservancy.
Locals interviewed by the Nation said the herders were forcefully grazing their animals on their maize and potato plantations.
“They are doing this with impunity and they are armed with bows and arrows. Some even have guns. Before they infiltrate this area and cause the chaos they are causing in OlMoran, we have to chase them away,” Paul Githinji, a resident, told the Nation.
The Rumuruti town business community association chairman, Frederick Mwangi, said that the herders have been in the area for close to two weeks and that they have gradually been invading their farms and allowing their animals to destroy crops.
"For the past two weeks the herders have been invading in our farms and are currently pitching camp in Marura area. Already hundreds of acres of maize plantation have been destroyed," said Mr Mwangi, adding that they feared that the herders would cause insecurity in the area.
A farmer, Charles Mbatiah, said that a resident who was part of a team that was driving away herds of cattle that had invaded maize plantations in the area was on Tuesday morning attacked and injured by the herders who are armed with machetes and rungus.
“Another farmer who had gone to the area to pick farm produce was attacked and his motorcycle destroyed,” he added.
Rumuruti township MCA, Kipruto Suge, said the attack on the two prompted protests from the farmers. The locals, he said, later went to the Rumuruti livestock market and flushed out those who had brought their animals to the market for sale. The leader asked security agencies to move in with speed and quell the violence before it escalates.
Nation has learned that the herders had migrated from as far as Oldonyiro, Polei, Kisima and Logopito in search of pastures for their cattle. A section of the community in Rumuruti claimed that there were those who originated from Kapedo.
"What is happening here might create animosity between the communities. This area has been peaceful all through and therefore we urge our brothers from the neighboring counties to respect private property," Mr Suge said.
In Chemoigut, Baringo County, residents said that they had also come across several incidences of cattle theft as the pastoralists crossed over to the conservancies area.
“Three days ago, a 12-year-old boy who was herding cattle was ambushed and his cows were stolen. Later on as the elders were tracking the cows, one man was shot with an arrow and injured. There is tension everywhere,” Pascalia Jebet, a resident, told Nation.
National Police Service Director of Communications, Bruno Shioso, said the security agents were observing the situation in Rumuruti closely and that more police officers had been deployed to maintain calm in the area.
“Locals are demonstrating against the herders who had arrived in the town from Samburu and parts of Laikipia. We are closely monitoring the situation,” Mr Shioso said.
In Nyandarua County, a similar script is rolling out as residents of Leshao Pondo Ward and neighbouring Pesi area in Laikipia County said the area had been invaded by tens of herders suspected to be escaping from the operation in Laikipia.
Locals said the herders had constructed makeshift homes in unoccupied farms and plots from Pesi to Umoja Mbuyu area, with thousands of livestock grazing the fields and farms.
“I have lost half an acre of maize to the animals. I pleaded with them to remove their livestock from my farm but they ignored me, they instead started singing and dancing to their traditional melodies,” said Ms Carol Wambui, a farmer located a short distance from Umoja Mbuyu Primary School.
At least 12 people have been killed in violence that rocked OlMoran in Laikipia where the National Police Service is currently conducting an operation to smoke out suspected raiders.
Tension started building up early in the month, when herders from Samburu and Baringo counties invaded private ranches, prompting owners to raise alarm.
Interior Cabinet Secretary, Fred Matiang’i yesterday announced that Kenya will continue battling the illegal sale and possession of firearms in a bid to promote peace and security.
The CS called on government agencies, NGO’s, civil society organisations and even political leaders to be on the frontline in encouraging people in possession of illegal firearms to surrender them to the authorities.