The National Police Service has defended the killing of 300 head of cattle in Laikipia County, and accused politicians of fuelling ranch invasions.
Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet said the animals were shot when a large group of armed men engaged the police in a shootout while taking cover behind the livestock.
“In response and to defend themselves in the ensuing exchange of fire, many of the livestock were killed. This is the incident being referred to in the media and by some politicians as wanton killing of livestock. Nothing could be further from the truth,” Mr Boinnet said in a statement sent to newsrooms by NPS Spokesman George Kinoti.
Mr Boinnet said the service takes no pleasure in seeing animals getting killed after being used as shields by illegal herders. He said the herders had in the past four months killed eight police officers, injured 14 and destroyed property worth millions of shillings’.
“In execution of its mandate to maintain law and order, NPS and other security agencies launched a security operation to drive out illegal herders from the county. The operation has been successful despite many social and political challenges,” the police boss said.
He noted that 16 AK-47 rifles, one M-16, one Carbine and thousands of ammunition were seized following the operation.
Mr Boinnet said there has been an influx of heavily armed herders in private ranches from a neighbouring county.
He accused politicians of encouraging the herders to invade the ranches.
“This, if not halted, undermines the very foundations of our country based on democracy, the rule of law and a free market economy,” he said.
This comes at a time when a section of leaders and Kenyans have condemned the police for shooting the livestock, with some demanding that the herders be compensated.
Nasa leader Raila Odinga said the incident, which comes against the backdrop of a severe drought that saw the pastoralist community in the region lose thousands of livestock, was regrettable.
“That single emaciated cow, goat or sheep that means nothing to non-pastoralists communities is the equivalent to a matatu, rental or commercial house, a bus or a plot of land that other communities value as source of survival,” Mr Odinga said.
He demanded that President Uhuru Kenyatta pays the herdsmen at prevailing market rates for their livestock.
National Council of NGOs Chairman Stephen Cheboi said it was not morally right for officers to kill livestock.
Meanwhile, a section of Maasai leaders have asked the government to launch investigations.
Led by Samburu Governor Moses Lenolkulal and his Kajiado counterpart Joseph ole Lenku, the leaders demanded that the officers who were involved in the incident be brought to book.
They also denied claims that the herders ambushed the officers.
“We as the leaders from the Maa community demand that the government starts investigations into the shooting of cows,” said Mr Lenolkulal.
Mr Lenku termed the officers’ action reckless. He demanded that the government compensates the herders, saying the community solely depends on livestock for their livelihood.
However, he said the matter should not be politicised and be seen as if the government was targeting the Maasai community.
Samburu Woman Rep Maison Leshomo, Senator Lelegwe Ltumbesi and Samburu West MP Naisula Lesuuda also condemned the shooting.