Kenya – Pastoralist Land Dispute

Incidents of violence involving herders highlight the increasingly precarious situation faced by pastoralists. 

A recent upsurge in attacks by herders on white-owned ranches and wildlife conservancies in Laikipia has led to an outcry, with some describing the pastoralist herders as primitive with no respect for private property or wildlife.

According to the Independent around 10,000 nomadic herders with around 135,000 cattle have invaded ranches and conservancies in Laikipia over the last four months.

In Kenya the white-owned ranches have full support of the government and many are funded by influential donors through the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT), controlling around 10.8 million acres of land; around 8% of Kenya’s total landmass.

In an example of the influential funding support, the Tullow Oil Company from Turkana County has donated US$11.5m to the NRT to establish further conservancies.

According to some commentators the land was acquired with the help of politicians who subsequently have hailed the NRT as a success, protecting both wildlife and the environment.

The CEO of the Kenya Wildlife Conservancies Association (KWCA) stated: “Conservancies amidst the increasing complex social and economic pressures, have been used as an avenue to bring together warring communities to co-manage resources, develop enterprises to enhance livelihoods, diversify tourism, secure grass banks for livestock during the dry seasons and create jobs for the local communities.”

However issues relate to pastoralists not being able to use the land during drought periods, when water is scarce. According to journalist John Mbaria, as the conservancies are United Nations (UN) protected, they are largely insulated from public scrutiny, reported the Daily Nation

The conflict also has highlighted prevalent attitudes towards pastoralists, who are perceived as damaging to the environment. Such a perspective ignores the fact that for centuries herders such as the Maasai and Samburu have lived relatively harmoniously with wildlife.


Herder in Samburu County – CC 2014

In the colonial period settlers turned Kenya into a hunting ground, while after independence and the ban on poaching, settlers needed to justify their ownership of property and thus established wildlife conservancies. Much of the land dates back to the 1904 Anglo-Maasai Agreement when locals “willingly” gave their land in the Central Rift Valley, according to the Daily Nation

Attempts by pastoralists to reclaim land have largely failed. In 2004 herders who drove their cattle into a ranch in Laikipia, were shot at by the police.

A British-Kenyan rancher, Matthew Voorspuy was shot dead while riding to inspect cottages that had been torched on his land earlier in March; a Kenyan politician Matthew Lempurkel was arrested and later bailed in connection to the incident.

In Kom, Isiolo County, a clash between armed herders from Isiolo and those from Samburu led to the deaths of ten people. Reports suggested that the Isiolo herders attacked the Samburu after they entered their grazing areas without permission, reported the East African.

On March 20th the Daily Nation reported that two people were killed in Baragoi after clashes between Samburu and Turkana communities, after four cows and around 300 goats were reportedly stolen from the Samburu.

The situation also highlights the precarious situation of pastoralists, caught between state repression, communal infighting and persistent drought. According to the Kenya Land Alliance (KLA), more than 65% of the arable land in the country is in the hands of 20% of the population.

Find out more in the Africa Research Bulletin:

KENYA – UK: Reparations Claim [Free to Read]
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 12, Pp. 21271B–21272C

CONSERVATION: Kenya
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 53, Issue. 3, Pp. 20948A–20948B

KENYA: Deadly Attacks
Political, Social & Cultural Series
Vol. 51, Issue. 11, Pp. 20358C–20360A

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