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

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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Africa – Pastoralist Knowledge Hub


Online hub for pastoralists to help address issues that face some of Africa’s most vulnerable communities

The Pastoralist Knowledge Hub, launched by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) aims to provide pastoral communities with a space to discover solutions to common challenges, discuss agricultural innovations and nominate and select representatives for global forums.

It will bring together institutions including the African Union (AU), the European Union (EU), the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World bank, alongside NGOs and pastoralist civil society groups.

Pastoral communities are important producers of livestock, meat, milk and animal products, and according to the FAO produce more than half of agricultural GDP in many countries. Through habitat provisioning, nutrient cycling and control of bush encroachment, livestock grazing helps to support the African rangeland ecosystem, however despite this they have often been marginalised in decision making that affects range-lands and migration routes.

According to a UN press release, the new global forum is an attempt to overcome a global policy gap in discussions of pastoralism and the challenges faced by transhumant communities.  Helena Semedo, FAO director-general said that “pastoralists are able to produce food where no crops can be grown. Yet, their concerns are poorly heard by the international community”.


In Kenya, the Maasai community have faced the failure of seasonal rains in November and December; Kakuta Maimai, a farmer from Kajiado County and member of the Maasai Association, said “it’s nearly a year without rain and many people lost lots of cows to the ongoing drought”, reported Kenyan news outlet The Star (18/4).

In Tanzania representatives of 16 pastoral communities gathered at Kwa-Idd in Arusha city to discuss issues related to changing weather patterns. Edward Porokwa, Director of Pastoralists Indigenous Non-Government Organisations Forum, said that “pastoralists are the most vulnerable group when it comes to effects of global warming and climate change”, reported Tanzania Daily News (6/4).

The International Crisis Group, in an April 1st report, document security issues facing pastoral communities in Central Africa, including a deteriorating regional security situation, global climate change, multiplication in migration roads and expansion of cultivated areas, which is leading to increased  competition for resources, particularly water.

In Chad, due to limited bilateral cooperation on pastoralist issues with the Central African Republic (CAR), there has been an increase in violence especially on migration roads and the emergence of new pastoralist groups with different motives and access to weapons.

In CAR violence between by Christian Anti-Balaka militia has caused many Mbororo herders to shelter in a UN camp and only to venture out after months of talks, according to Reuters.  Thibaud Lesueur of International Crisis Group said that, “it’s very likely that if the pastoralists restarted their herding in the bush a few kilometres from town, they would once again be targeted by militia and bandits.”

Similarly in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the migration of Mbororo herdsmen from several surrounding countries has caused tension with the local populations. According to the International Crisis Group,  DRC and CAR do not regulate transhumance and are unable to deal with the violence between communities, whereas some countries such as Niger and Chad receive financial support from donors to regulate pastoralism.

In many parts of Africa conflicts and tensions between pastoral and sedentary communities are increasingly complex, extending beyond national borders and interweaving with other regional conflicts and security issues. It is hoped that the Pastoralist Knowledge Hub will facilitate and contribute to the strengthening of pastoral livelihoods through worldwide sharing of information, stories, solutions and knowledge.

Find out more the Africa Research Bulletin:

Livestock: Kenya
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.51, Issue. 10, Pp.20611b-20611c

IGAD: World Bank Support for Pastoralists
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.51, Issue.3, Pp.20333B

Pastoralists Vs Pollution
Economic, Financial & Technical Series
Vol.43, Issue.11, Pp.17173A

Subscribe to the Africa Research Bulletin today.