Kenya: Laikipia Paradise - DP William Ruto's 'Hand' in Land Saga

20 September 2021

The vast Laikipia plains stretch from the slopes of Mt Kenya to the borders of the Rift Valley, where tourism merges heart-warming hospitality with stunning scenery, scintillating skies and wonderful wildlife.

The region is full of ranches and conservancies that are defined by exclusivity and freedom, the quintessential qualities that make Laikipia a paradise on earth.

Visitors can immerse themselves in the wilderness and enjoy the breath-taking beauty of nature.

Wildlife haven

After the Tsavo, Laikipia is the most extensive wildlife haven, a part of the Ewaso ecosystem that is home to a variety of endangered animal species, including the Grévy's zebra, reticulated giraffes and black rhinos.

Private ranches occupy more than half of the land with foreigners owning thousands of acres, which they utilise in wildlife conservation and livestock farming.

Our journey to the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) Mutara Ranch begins in Rumuruti town at noon. It takes about 40 minutes on the bumpy Rumuruti-Nanyuki road to Mutara shopping centre.

At the 64,000-acre ranch, there are guards manning the main gate while an electric fence and trenches are also in place to deter intruders. There are many layers of security. Maximum protection.

The ranch comprises an area of 253-square kilometres in the middle of critical wildlife migration corridors. It has a wide diversity of animals, including the big five, rare species such as Grévy's zebra, cheetah and Patas monkey. It was first established as a private ranch in 1921.

It borders the Laikipia National Park and the Kihika Ranch to the East.

As we drive on the dusty road between the main gate and the administrative offices, the serene environment welcomes us to the ranch. The chirping of birds and raucous trumpeting of elephants lift our spirits.

We are momentarily thrilled by a family of elephants strolling to a water hole. It's a scene to behold as they play with the water, splashing and spraying it with their trunks. Just like adventurous toddlers. They then come out and pose, as if waiting for a group photo. This is Laikipia.

Old buildings

It's touted as one of Africa's most exhilarating safari and wildlife destinations. In one section of the ranch are rusty houses, idle machines and old vehicles that give the impression of an abandoned historical site. Not at all. The old buildings serve as offices for employees running a section of the ranch.

One of the managers, Mr Benard Maranga, says a section of the property has been leased out to four individuals.

"They mainly carry out farming. The rest of the land is managed by ADC," he offers.

Two of the individuals are Musa Haji and Mark Powsy, who are both commercial farmers. They grow maize and rear beef cattle. The indigenous Boran cattle is the most popular, with an employee saying there are about 6,000.

"The ranch is home to the Boran cattle but there are also wild animals. It's a beautiful mixture. The section of land under agriculture has been leased out to farmers," he says.

Beef cattle

The section under ADC is used as a breeding ground for Boran cattle. The beef produced is sold locally and abroad.

In 2007, ADC set aside more than 20,000 acres for integrated wildlife conservation and ecotourism. It runs the wildlife sanctuary with the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. A private wildlife area that borders Mutara Ranch, the Ol Pejeta Conservancy is home to Kenya's largest black rhino population and promotes ecotourism.

Ol Pejeta occupies about 360-square kilometres of savannah and incorporates the Sweetwaters Chimpanzee Sanctuary.

Leases secretly signed

While ADC believes the land leased out to commercial farming brings revenue to the government, most employees say the leases were secretly signed as they don't know the individuals who benefitted.

"I know some people have leased sections of the land, but I don't know all their names. It's the ADC management and the government that knows who owns land here," says one of the employees.

Although the management remains cagy on the other people it has leased out land to, there's speculation that a powerful public official sits at the top of the list.

Earlier this month, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang'i said Deputy President William Ruto owns thousands of acres at the ranch, where he's reportedly involved in growing of cereals and livestock farming.

But the DP denied owning a 15,000-acre piece in the property and blamed it on his political enemies.

"The Office of the President was 70 per cent right (on the Matiang'i dossier), but they added me some property like the ADC land that isn't mine," said DR Ruto when he addressed a meeting with leaders from Nakuru County at his Karen residence.

Not actively involved

The Nation has established that Dr Ruto has not been actively involved in management of any of the mentioned properties. It remains unclear if he uses proxies to manage the land.

In 2015, a local daily reported that as conflict over pasture in Laikipia County escalated, questions emerged about the ownership of a vast ranch leased out to an influential individual. A contingent of armed police officers had been deployed at the ranch to provide security.

A section of leaders from the pastoralist communities have now urged the State to allow herders into the 15,000-acre land, alleged to be under Dr Ruto, to use it for grazing.

Led by Samburu Senator Ltumbesi Lelegwe and former Laikipia North MP Mathew Lempurkel, they want pastoralists to graze their livestock there.

"We want the government to hand over the land to pastoralists to use it for grazing. They used to graze freely on the land before they were ejected. Now their animals are dying," says Mr Lempurkel.

Meanwhile, residents of Suguroi near the ranch also want to be allowed access to pasture. They say their sources of water and pasture for their livestock have been sealed off.

They are calling on the National Assembly to investigate the circumstances under which a section of the land was leased out.

"We used to graze our cattle at the ranch, but since the individuals leased out a section of the land, we were thrown out. We now want to be given grazing land by the ADC," says a resident, Mr Musa Lekirmpoto.

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ADC is a parastatal established through an Act of Parliament, Cap 444 of 1986 for promotion and execution of agricultural schemes, and reconstruction in the country by initiating, assisting or expansion of agricultural undertakings and enterprises.

Its main mission is to promote sustainable agricultural development and reconstruction in Kenya by initiating, assisting, and expanding agricultural enterprises through production and supply of quality seed, livestock, technological transfers and training in a sustainable and affordable manner.

The ADC Mutara Ranch lies to the north of Ol Pejeta.

An archetypal Laikipia landscape, its rich grasslands and thick bush are home to many of the species that are also found on Ol Pejeta Conservancy including the elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard, giraffe, antelope and zebra.

At the conservancy, the Mantis Tented Mutara Camp stands in the midst of wildlife.

Nestled high on a cliff-top, Mantis Mutara Tented Camp enjoys a 360 degrees view of raw, uninterrupted wilderness. It is the only accommodation in the 20,000-acre Mutara Conservancy, with just 15 tents.

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