Stop the killings in western Laikipia


Herders inside Mugie Ranch in Laikipia in February. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Two weeks ago Martin King’ori, aged 33, was cycling home, with greens for his kids —well I am told he was on his bike — when he was killed. The killing was definite though, as just the latest of many dozens of residents shot by invading, armed herders in western Laikipia.

As a farmer, he and almost all his neighbours have been targets for the herders. Three days earlier, James Lokwang was shot in the hip: he is still in hospital. They came last Thursday to Mary Njoroge’s house, shooting at her and her family. Yesterday, they stole the cattle grazing near the high school in Ndindika.

But the residents of western Laikipia are without aid, and unprotected. Yet things are set to get a lot worse for them. For when Cabinet Secretary Fred Mataing’i issued an ultimatum to illegal herders to leave Laikipia, security forces were sent only to northern Laikipia, so now thousands more cattle have been driven illegally into western Laikipia instead.

In fact, there are millions of dollars being raised to rehabilitate pastures there, damaged by climate change and 147 invasive alien species. But instead, this week, that pasture is being eaten to desertification, as the few hundred illegal herders there the last four months are now multiplied tenfold.

And it’s blowing up fast — into far more killings than an exploding oil tanker. Families have fled, the schools are inoperable. But have we managed national mourning?

Martin King’ori was buried by his family on his boma on August 5. Some say the security forces just can’t tackle it: it’s got too big and the herders are too well armed. For the herders have guns, lots of them, apparently more guns per head than anywhere else in eastern Africa. And they are better guns than the security forces — AK47s against G3s.

Meanwhile, our security forces, apparently, even though they can track phones, calls and texts when tracking down my stolen pets, can’t manage that for the supply of munitions into western Laikipia. And that’s despite phones being dropped full of contacts, found after attacks, retrieved.

Yet beyond the growing insurrection in western Laikipia, and the mystery of the security forces’ ‘stay-away’, there are far, far bigger issues of neglect going on.

Laikipia is the top wildlife preserve in the world for large and endangered animals. It has more than either Serengeti or Kruger National Park, half of all Kenya’s rhinos, the widest diversity of large mammals anywhere.

More millions of dollars were coming in to create a migratory corridor for the wildlife. As it is, only two percent of the county is set aside for the exclusive use of wildlife on conservancies, but that two percent holds Kenya’s greatest wildlife assets.

But Laikipia has been experiencing rapid population growth, up 30 percent from 2009 to 2019, and even faster growth in livestock, up 55 percent over the same period.

Some 90 per cent of the population is pastoral, so nearly all those cattle are grazing. Yet there are no laws on land use in Laikipia, and the surge in cattle to feed has coincided with climate change — with the county plagued by drought since 2015.

Without management of the rising herd numbers — and management options are possible —this year’s surge in huge herds roving the area is leading to the permanent destruction of pasture. That isn’t going to make for less conflict next year.

The more blind eyes are turned to the rising cattle and diminishing pasture resources, the more Martin King’oris will die, caught in the crossfire in a fight for grazing and water.

And yet, resource management is more than possible. Cattle can be fattened up until December, and then sold off. Water can be captured and harvested. Pasture can be restored.

My question is, while our leaders, some of them, have even expressed that this problem is just one of too many, and, therefore, not going to get any attention at all: when this land in western Laikipia is all destroyed, will those herders continue south, and which county do they have to reach, overgrazing, desertifying and killing, before it does matter who they are killing?