The gun violence in Laikipia, which has claimed some lives and left other people injured, is now attracting the attention of the international media. Among the casualties is the Laikipia West police chief shot and injured last month and now the co-owner of Sosian Ranch, Tristan Voorspuy, who was killed at the weekend.
The county appears to be besieged by a brazen and well-armed band of perpetrators, carrying out forceful invasions of private farms and ranches. They are daring enough to confront and intimidate the police. Smallholders as well as large conservancies are exposed to the danger.
It is reported that hours before the killing of Voorspuy, shots had been fired at the departing helicopter carrying Inspector-General Joseph Boinnet. And that 24 hours after the killing, Voorspuy’s corpse still lay at the scene, the area too volatile to risk a recovery even by the police.
The severity of the current drought is undoubtedly exacerbating the tension. Pastoralists and their animals are in distress. But the fact that insecurity and gun violence have plagued certain parts of Laikipia for nearly three years are an indication of a problem much deeper than the effects of the current drought.
This deadly convulsion is an escalation of what has been an untreated low-grade fever with the proliferation of arms among pastoralists, an almost certainty for the outbreak of deadly violence.
This is particularly so given the absence of any proper dialogue mechanisms. Historical grievances linked to access to animal grazing and water rights and land ownership and use were well enumerated and discussed in the Report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. This cannot continue to be ignored. Many citizens said in the report that their legal and constitutional rights are violated.
Rodolfo Stavenhagen, the United Nations special rapporteur made a personal observation in the 2007 report on human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous people. He noted that traditional range lands had been fenced off behind ranches, “restricting the movement of pastoralists’ livestock herds” and “constricting the natural ecosystem, including important migratory routes”.
At that time, he found that 75 per cent of the land was in the hands of Europeans. A definitive statement from the National Land Commission on its policy on leases of land and, in particular, the matter of their expiry and renewal will bring much needed clarity to the residents of Laikipia with interest in land.
This issue may be a significant propellant to the combustible situation in the county, with reports that almost half of its land is owned by about 30 families.
Most owners are ranchers who continue to enjoy a pre-independence lease rate of Sh3.50 a hectare, 33 times under the current market rate of the county and 333 times below lease rates for land in the Maasai Mara area of Narok.
The Laikipia County Assembly and governor have tried and failed to raise this rate. The dispute is now pending before the courts.
That is one of the ingredients that constitute the tinder box that Laikipia has become. Compounding this now are the heightened political tensions and expectations of an election season and the attendant pronouncements of political players.
There is much work for the National Cohesion and Integration Commission whose chairman, Francis Ole Kaparo, is a son of Laikipia. And yet Laikipia is but a microcosm of wider conflicts on the issues of land, the environment and natural resources that this country must contend with. Similar questions have been asked in the counties of Taita Taveta and Kwale.
There is an urgent need for the recognition of this issue as a grave threat to national security. A robust and immediate effort must be taken by the government to secure the lives and safety of its citizens, the protection of private property from illegal invaders, equitable access to natural resources for all, and for the vulnerable pastoralists, in particular, and an effective long-term strategy to help them cope with the effects of seasonal droughts.
Finally, a lasting solution requires nothing less than the full implementation of the recommendations of the Truth and Justice report.
Isaac E. N. Okero is president, Law Society of Kenya.