UK protests Laikipia ranch invasions after rancher’s murder


Mr Tristan Voorspuy was shot dead at Sosian Ranch in Laikipia on Sunday. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The United Kingdom on Monday renewed its call on the Kenyan government to restore law and order in Laikipia County ranches and conservancies, a day after herders shot dead a rancher.
Tristan Voorspuy’s killing on Sunday highlighted the escalation of a crisis that has been simmering for months. Most of the large ranches in the county are owned by Britons.

The British High Commission in Nairobi said the attacks by pastoralists from neighbouring Turkana and Samburu communities were worrying and urged Kenyan authorities to bring them to an immediate end.

“Alongside other international partners, I have repeatedly conveyed to the Kenyan authorities over the past months the United Kingdom’s deep concern at the situation in parts of Laikipia. I have done so again following Mr Voorspuy’s murder,” British High Commissioner to Kenya Nic Hailey said in a statement.

“I welcome the clear commitment at the highest levels to tackle the situation, and continue to urge the Kenyan authorities to take all necessary steps urgently to restore law and order, and to protect life and property in the area.”

Mr Hailey said the killing of Mr Voorspuy was saddening, adding that the British government had reached out to his family to provide support.

“I was deeply saddened by the murder of Tristan Voorspuy, a dual Kenyan/British national shot dead at Sosian Ranch in Laikipia on Monday. The British High Commission is in touch with his family to provide support at this difficult time,” said Mr Hailey.

Mr Voorspuy was killed by herders while inspecting some of his lodges, police said.

He was the founder of luxury Safari company Offbeat Safaris. He was born in South Africa, but schooled and lived in Sussex, England.

Reports said he had served in the British Army for six years before he left in 1981.

Martin Evans, chairman of the Laikipia Farmers Association, was quoted as saying Mr Voorspuy was attacked while inspecting a lodge that had been set on fire by invaders.

When he failed to return by Sunday afternoon, an aerial search was mounted and Mr Voorspuy’s injured horse was spotted, but there was no sight of the rancher, Mr Evans said.

A ground team later found his body by the ruins of the building.

The killing marked a morbid turn in the ranch invasions that began a month ago when herders forced themselves into Suiyan Conservancy with their livestock in search of pasture.

The list of ranches and conservancies that have been invaded includes Laikipia Nature Conservation, Segera Ranch, Ol Malo Sabuk, Borana and Mpala.

The invasion of ranches and conservancies has caused diplomatic friction between Kenya and the United Kingdom.

The armed herders have been accused of driving cattle and setting buildings in the ranches ablaze, looting property and forcing businesses to close indefinitely.

READ: Laikipia risks ‘Sh2bn loss’ in ranch violence

Inspector-General of Police Joseph Boinnet toured Laikipia on Saturday to assess an ongoing security operation in the area.

British ranch owners had earlier blamed Kenyan authorities for putting up a lukewarm response to the skirmishes that have caused destruction of property worth millions of shillings.

The Laikipia Farmers’ Association – which represents the large landowners – said the invasions had resulted in the closure of five tourist resorts.

“In the latest such event, armed men drove cattle into 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 5,000 employees.

The association also pointed an accusing finger at politicians for inciting communities so as to get re-elected in the August 8 General Election.

“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 earlier.

The Interior ministry had also earlier 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 the 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.

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.

Meanwhile, the government assured international tourists visiting Laikipia that the conservancies and ranches in the county are safe.

National Police Service spokesman Charles Owino said security in the county had been beefed up to protect  visitors, investors and tourist facilities.

“To ensure the safety of wildlife enthusiasts heading to Laikipia for Safari, we do provide armed escort to tour vans ferrying visitors to the ranches and conservancies,” he said.

Additional reporting by Mathias Ringa.

Editor's note: This story has been edited to remove names of the Laikipia ranches that have not been affected by the herder invasion.