Laikipia Nature Conservancy

Police officers patrol the Laikipia Nature Conservancy in Laikipia West. Ranchers in Laikipia County are living in fear after the killing of two security officers and maiming of five others last week.

| File | Nation

Laikipia ranchers live in fear of new invasions

Ranchers in Laikipia County are living in fear of renewed invasions on their land following recent banditry attacks.

This comes after the killing of two security officers in the Laikipia Nature Conservancy and maiming of five others last week.

Modestus Juma, a private ranger in the vast conservancy, was shot dead on February 12, by bandits. The ranger was driving with his colleague Patrick Loranu when they were ambushed by the armed bandits, and their vehicle sprayed with bullets.

Juma died of gunshot wounds to the head, while Mr Loranu survived with serious injuries.

Two days earlier, on February 9, a police officer had been killed in a similar attack after an unknown number of armed raiders attacked an operation camp inside the conservancy.

Police Constable Elisha Kibich Yego succumbed to gunshot wounds in the dawn raid, while Corporal Daniel Ruto was shot on the leg.

Other officers who were at the Mulima Jangili Operation Camp during the attack escaped unhurt, with one yet to be traced.

The death of Yego, who was a sprinter, brought to about 20 the number of officers who have been killed since the security operation was launched six months ago.

Yego specialised in 100m and 200m races, and he took part in the 2019 Athletics Kenya National Police Track and Field Championships.

The conservancy’s management told the Nation that dozens of armed bandits are still camping in the 100,000-acre ranch.

“Security camps are here and are still operational, but bandits are still crossing over to the conservancy from Baringo County.

“For instance, at the end of last month, residents reported to us they had spotted armed young men crossing into the conservancy; the same was confirmed by an aerial surveillance by our security team,” said the manager, adding that the armed men were still roaming around the conservancy.

Ms Mary Wanjiru, a resident of Kamwenje village, added: “Herders equipped with rifles, spears and arrows have been moving around while trying to gain access to Kuki Gallmann’s farm (Laikipia Nature Conservancy).”

Laikipia Conservancy Association Chairperson Kip ole Polos said the attacks and the recurrent invasions of conservancies was threatening the local tourism industry.

In Laikipia North, Mr Ole Polos cited Il Ng’wesi and Lekuruki community conservancies to the east of Mukogodo Forest as the most affected.

“The tourism industry is staring at a possible shutdown due to the rampant invasions. The Tassia Game Lodge has already closed down due to invasions by armed herders from the neighbouring counties of Isiolo and Samburu,” he said.

Mr Ole Polos said the multi-billion-shilling tourism industry in Laikipia, touted as one of Africa’s most exhilarating wilderness safari and wildlife tourism destinations, risks being destroyed if the invasions are not addressed.

Last year, the attacks escalated for over two months, leaving at least a dozen civilians dead, and sparking an outcry for greater government intervention.

The bloody assault that also left at least 20 people dead and about 400 families displaced from their homes forced Interior CS Fred Matiang’i to order a security operation involving at least 400 police officers to flush out the attackers.

Among the 400 security personnel were those from the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF), General Service Unit (GSU), Anti-Stock Theft Unit and Border Patrol Unit, among others.

Laikipia County Commissioner Joseph Kanyiri has maintained that the security operation is still going on and that a good number of illegal herders had been flushed out of private property.

The county commissioner said the government had also started identifying other hideouts for invaders.

“The government is still giving full concentration to the Laikipia Nature Conservancy. We are also going to give full attention to Mukogodo Forest because we believe that is where armed and illegal herders have been hiding after attacking residents and security officers,” said Mr Kanyiri.

The government attributes the situation to drought, which is driving herders to seek new grazing lands for their cattle. However, residents, religious leaders and elders from the region believe that the attacks are connected to the August 9 election.

“The perennial violent land invasions could be stoked by politicians seeking votes from particular ethnic blocs. They might be inciting the herders, telling them that they have a right to the land because it belonged to their ancestors,” said Pastor Richard Mwangi.

In 2017, in one of the deadliest clashes between the herders, ranchers and residents of Laikipia, hundreds of locals and security officers were killed and property worth billions of shillings destroyed.

The herders from the neighbouring Samburu, Baringo, West Pokot and Isiolo counties, most of them armed with illegal weapons, invaded farms and conservancies with impunity, threatening to ruin the county’s economy.

The epicentre of the conflict was Laikipia North, where most ranches are located, and where the invaders claimed to be in search of water and pasture.

Instead, they left a trail of death and destruction.

The invasion later spilled over to ranches, conservancies and farms in Laikipia East and Laikipia West.

Among the high profile shootings in the area was the murder of Tristan Voorspuy, a former British soldier and co-owner of the 24,000-acre Sosian ranch in Laikipia North. Voorspuy was shot dead on March 7, 2017, by armed herders who had invaded his farm before they set ablaze a cottage on the farm.

More than 1,000 wild animals were also killed in the county by poachers who disguised themselves as herders.

Elephants, giraffes, buffalos and zebras were killed for their trophies.

At Sosian and Mugie ranches, more than 32 elephants were killed for their tusks, after illegal grazers with thousands of livestock invaded the area. A number of elephants carcasses were found with bullet wounds.

Numerous other animals, including the endangered Grevy's zebra, impala, hartebeest and buffaloes, were also found shot and their meat crudely butchered.

Mugie ranch also lost 27 buffaloes, 40 zebras and 18 giraffes, among other animals.

Between January and December last year, Laikipia Senior Game Warden Rose Malenya said about 45 elephants were found with gunshot wounds. Post-mortems conducted on carcasses of the elephants contradicted earlier reports that they died as a result of the drought.

Ms Malenya noted that the reports instead pointed to illegal guns in the hands of herders.

In some instances, herders used guns to keep the jumbos away from water points that they reserved for their animals.

Religious leaders and elders from Samburu and Laikipia counties have since called for tolerance among politicians to avoid fueling more violence.

Archbishop Virgilio Pante of the Maralal Catholic Diocese said the dry weather in Isiolo and Samburu has worsened the situation in the county.

“We have started the campaign to help restore peace in this region as the August elections approach because we believe this is the period that things worsen. But even as we continue preaching peace, we are calling for tolerance among politicians to avoid bloodshed and violence,” said Archbishop Pante on Tuesday in Rumuruti town. 

Ms Jenerica Lotiktik, a peace ambassador, said concerted efforts were required to guarantee the protection of private property, ensure equitable access to natural resources, and create a long-term strategy to help locals cope with the effects of drought.