Killing livestock is not the solution in Laikipia conflict

What you need to know:

  • So what happens next? If we are to change anything in Laikipia, we need to have a conversation.

  • A conversation that involves ranchers, conservationists, the government, pastoralists and other stakeholders in the county.

  • I do not promise the conversation will be comfortable, but it is necessary.

This past week, news broke that over 300 head of cattle had been shot dead by police officers in Laikipia.

The cattle belonged to Maa pastoralists.

OUTRAGE

Ever since, the incident has been condemned strongly by some leaders and the public in social media.

Others have praised the police for maintaining law and order and teaching the “entitled” pastoralists a lesson.

How dare they take their cattle to graze in private ranches? Diversity of opinion. And that’s the beauty of the human nature.

Personally, I was agitated. You do not kill livestock in Africa. For whatever reason.

I am not from a community that practises pastoralism.

However, I have come to understand the value of livestock among the pastoral communities.

In the African context, livestock is a valued asset, economically and beyond.

CULTURE

Today, it plays a major role in important occasions like marriages (heck, try getting a wife from most African communities without some dowry in form of cattle and see how that goes), funerals and other cultural events.

To the Maa, livestock is even more than that.

Apart from being almost the sole source of livelihood, the community has cultural attachments to to these animals that no money can buy.

In Africa, killing of cattle, therefore, is something that would make our ancestors turn in their graves. For the Maa, it is worse.

Killing their livestock is not only pushing them towards poverty but also killing their culture, their dignity and any sense of pride that they hold through their livestock.

And because pastoralism is part of the Maa culture, they are not going to suddenly abandon it for what some people call “civilised way of life.”

STRETCH

Quit expecting them to.

Given the change in climate and population growth, adjustments to livestock management are necessary.

But I think it becomes a bit of a stretch when some people expect them to quit pastoralism “because it’s the 21st century.”

The fact that this is not the first time livestock has been killed in Laikipia makes the whole episode even uglier.

There was an opportunity to rectify things after it first happened but looks like everyone chose to look the other way.

It is easier, after all.

And my gut strongly tells me that if nothing is done to address the situation in Laikipia, this will not be last time we hear of such news.

TRESPASS

The police and some people argue that the herders had trespassed on private property and were destroying it at the expense of wildlife.

They say private property must be respected. And I agree with them— private property must be respected and that includes the pastoralists’ livestock.

Is it unlawful to invade private property? Yes. However, killing livestock is doing the exact same thing. Or worse.

The problem with Laikipia is that nothing is ever in black or white. It is not as simple as, “this land is private, therefore, keep off. End of story.”

That is why I have a problem with police killing livestock because they had been grazing in private ranches.

These pastoralists desperately need feed for their livestock year in year out.

CLIMATE

Drought is a major contributor to this and change of climate is not making things easier for them.

Also, the fact that the number of pastoralists is increasing while the land available to them remains the same or decreases as more conservancies are created is a contributor.

We might also want to remind ourselves that had British colonialists not evicted the grandparents of the herders from their ancestral lands over 100 years ago, or had President Jomo Kenyatta’s government not done the same 50 years later and made everything legal, then perhaps the land would still be with the rightful owners.

And they wouldn’t need to break in. Historical injustices turned into law and “wildlife conservation” do not stop being injustices.

Also, ignoring them like they did not happen will not make them go away.

WILDLIFE

Besides, taking away land from the Maa in the name of “conservation” begs a few questions.

Do the Maa, who have lived with wildlife since time immemorial, suddenly become enemies of conservation that they now need to be isolated from the wildlife?

Who are these claiming to be better conservationists than those who have lived with wildlife for centuries, and what are their intentions?

Could it be that they care more about wildlife than the Maa?

Your guesses are as good as mine.

LET'S TALK

So what happens next? If we are to change anything in Laikipia, we need to have a conversation.

A conversation that involves ranchers, conservationists, the government, pastoralists and other stakeholders in the county.

I do not promise the conversation will be comfortable, but it is necessary.

From the conversation, we can face issues that are ailing the county and hopefully come up with long lasting solutions.

Killing livestock is definitely not one of them.

Ms Maroma, a 2017 graduate of University of Leicester, is an Environmental Analyst. Email:[email protected] Twitter: @daniellamaroma

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