Laikipia ranch invasions spark friction between Kenya, UK


Pastoralists flee from Karwao Village in Rumuruti near Kifuko farm in Laikipia County. PHOTO | FILE

Pastoralist invasion of Laikipia ranches and conservancies, owned by British nationals, continued to cause diplomatic friction between Kenya and the United Kingdom -- which yesterday demanded an immediate end to the turmoil.

The British High Commission in Nairobi said the attacks by pastoralists from neighbouring Turkana and Samburu communities, are believed to be partly inflamed by politicians with vested interests, putting at risk the region’s Sh4 billion a year economy.

The High Commission sent an update to its citizens on Tuesday, detailing a festering bout of insecurity in the area.

“We are deeply concerned by recent land invasions in the Laikipia area. We continue to monitor the situation closely, and raise the issue at the highest levels within the Kenyan government,” spokesman Stephen Burns said.

Laikipia is dotted with ranches, resorts and wildlife sanctuaries that attract thousands of visitors yearly and sustains a workforce of up to 5,000 people.

Up to 10,000 British troops also train yearly in Nanyuki’s harsh terrain in Laikipia County under the Kenya-UK military co-operation, pumping more than Sh8 billion into the economy.

British ranch owners on Thursday blamed Kenyan authorities’ lukewarm response to the skirmishes for the continued escalation that now has caused destruction of property worth millions of shillings.

The Laikipia Farmers’ Association – which represents the large landowners – said the invasions had resulted in closure of five
tourism resorts and left one person dead.

“In the latest such event, armed men drove cattle onto Suyian ranch on January 29, set buildings at the property’s lodge alight on two consecutive nights, causing millions of shillings in damages and forcing the business to close indefinitely,”  the association said.

It represents private investors, land owners, property managers, and businesses operating 65 enterprises in the area and paying Sh800 million a year to the 5,000 employees.

READ: Britain issues travel alert on Laikipia game ranches

On Thursday the association pointed an accusing finger at politicians for inciting communities so as to get re-elected.

“Many of the recent invasions of private property are driven by  agendas of politicians facing difficult re-election bids in August, who seek to win support by suggesting that people will face no action if they force their livestock into private land in Laikipia,” association chairman Martin Evans said.

The Interior ministry yesterday blamed the incursions on politicians and a drought that has ravaged grazing fields since late last year, pushing pastoralists into the conservancies.

“We have deployed 320 officers from police service, 420 administration police (AP) alongside GSU and Anti Stock Theft Unit to secure private property,” said Mwenda Njoka, a spokesman for the Interior ministry, adding that the attacks have dropped in recent days after discussions with area MPs.

He, however, said the British High Commission had failed to communicate with the ministry before issuing an update on the situation, which caused tourists to leave.

The High Commission said it had released the update as a routine excise for UK citizens based on Kenya’s security profile at any given time.

Past advisories have been linked to concerns over terrorist activities that nearly crippled Kenya’s tourism industry in the past three years.

A series of terrorist attacks on Kenyan towns in 2014 saw Britain, the US and France issue travel warnings to their citizens, leading to a steep decline in tourist arrivals and the closure of more than 40 hotels at the Kenyan Coast due to low bed occupancy.

The sector has recently been on a rebound after the UK and the US lifted travel advisories on the coastal towns of Mombasa, Watamu and Malindi.

The advisories on Lamu and Manda were retained alongside Garissa and Nairobi’s Eastleigh district.

The US last year overtook Britain for the first time as the top source market of foreign tourists visiting Kenya.
US tourist arrivals grew 15.4 per cent to 97,883 last year, outpacing Britain, traditionally Kenya’s leading market, whose visitors dropped 2.1 per cent to 96,404 tourists, according to data from Kenya Tourism Board.
Overall, international tourist arrivals to Kenya increased 16.7 per cent to 877,602 last year from 752,073 in 2015.

Tourism was once Kenya’s highest foreign exchange earner, but has been declining over the years.

Official data shows the sector earned the country Sh84.6 billion in 2015, down from Sh87.1 billion a year earlier and Sh97.9 billion in 2011.