Kenya: Armed Bandits Ruin Laikipia Pastoralists' Pact With Conservancy

22 September 2021

Thousands of local pastoralists have been pushed out of the vast Laikipia Nature Conservancy because of rampant incursions by heavily armed bandits.

The conservancy noted on Friday that before the invasions in March, it provided grazing fields for over 1,500 livestock owned by the local community under a structured agreement.

Sveva Gallman, daughter of the conservancy's owner Kuki Gallman, said the grazing scheme had since been quashed because of incursions by illegal herders.

Ms Sveva said they had partnered with the National Drought Management Authority to conduct annual fattening campaigns for over 4,000 local livestock and improve their breed.

"For several years, we have been providing structured grazing for community members without problems. We have been providing high-quality grazing for over 1,500 community livestock and fattening them for market," Ms Sveva said in a press statement.

"But we had to stop all these activities due to an insurgence of armed men with over 15,000 head of cattle emanating from neighbouring counties."

She added: "We believe that cattle and wildlife can coexist, and believe that the community and the conservancy must be mutually beneficial to each other.

"In this pre-election year, the whole of Laikipia West has witnessed a planned insurgence of armed men from other counties and this has debilitated the project. Many areas of the conservancy no longer have grass left and this means the local community will suffer."

The government has mapped the conservancy, ADC Mutara ranch, Kilmon farm, Mugie ranch, Loisaba Conservancy, Kirimon Nature National Reserve and Ol Moran as invasion hotspots for a major security operation.

Ms Kuki, a renowned author and conservationist, is recuperating after being shot through the leg when she encountered a group of armed bandits near Ol Moran in May this year.

The 78-year-old had also been shot by cattle rustlers in 2017.

"My mother is one of dozens of community members who have been wounded or killed in recent months in Laikipia West. She was shot by a gang of cattle raiders whilst driving alone near Ol Moran. I am still nursing her back to health," Ms Sveva said.

The management maintained that it genuinely owns the land.

"In light of the resurgent conflict in Laikipia West and the various claims and narratives circling the media, LNC (Laikipia Nature Conservancy) hopes to clarify and elucidate our history, values and economic model," Ms Sveva said.

"LNC was purchased from a Kenyan company in 1972, with leases that still run for many decades. From 1983, the land was dedicated to conservation and community projects, and since created one of Kenya's most important water towers. Today it is 100 percent owned by Kenyan citizens," she added.

Laikipia Conservancies Association (LCA) chairman Kip ole Polos recently told the Nation that lots of resources have been injected over the years into offering civic education to Samburu community elders on the need to have a managed and modern way of grazing.

"We have educated elders from Samburu, who we think are neutral, on the need to follow the procedure of accessing pastures in the conservancies. I don't believe in using guns to mitigate these problems. I believe in talking to people amicably," Mr Polos said.

Mr Polos, who is also the chairman of Il Ngwesi Community Conservancy, said they had not enjoyed the gains of engaging the community elders as there have been persistent bandit attacks and illegal invasions of conservancies.

"I think there is a disconnect between herders and the youths herding the cattle. I have come to learn that their youngsters do not listen to them. As a nomadic community, we will try another way of bringing in the Samburu warriors on a round table," Mr Polos said.

"We want the communities to understand that every piece of land in Laikipia has an owner and a management. We are happy to welcome them but they just need to knock on the door and talk to us so that we can allow them in. That is the bottom line of solving this problem."

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