Over the last few months, parts of the Kenyan Rift Valley region, particularly Laikipia county, have been making international headlines for all the wrong reasons and there appears to be no end in sight.
Since mid-2016, a section of area locals, the majority of who are pastoralists, have been forcibly invading private ranches that are mostly owned by White farmers.
Once there, they feed their cattle farm crops, burn houses, and kill anyone who challenges them.
Is Politics at Play?
Initially, it was thought that these were simple spontaneous invasions spurred by the devastating drought that has hit many parts of Kenya since last year as local herders move around in search of pasture for their cattle.
But as the killing of private ranchers and the destruction of cottages and other private properties inside these ranches continues, it has become clear that a more sinister motivation is behind the attacks.
For example, Member of Parliament for Laikipia North Mathew Lempurkel was arrested in March due to his alleged connection with the killing of British-Kenyan rancher Mathew Voorspuy by local bandits.
“It is a war – a third world war – against the Whites,” the Sunday Times quoted Lempurkel as saying.
The MP has since been released on bail pending hearing of the case.
Despite the government’s assurance that the bandits will be dealt with ruthlessly, attacks on private ranchers is still being reported in the area, with the latest being the shooting of Kuki Gallmann, an Italian-born Kenyan conservationist and author of “I Dreamed of Africa,” late last week.
Gallmann was gravely injured by shots fired by local bandits who invaded her ranch in the Rift Valley and ransacked several lodges.
Even though the popular conservationist survived the heinous shooting, her attack has brought to the fore serious questions on the safety of White investors in Kenya, especially ranchers in the Rift Valley.
While the current drought in the country may have forced some local herders to invade the vast private ranches in search of pasture, it is obvious that local politics and greed are largely to blame for the continued attack on White ranchers due to their efforts to incite locals to take over their private land.
Killings Spur Questions
If indeed it is the grass herders are after, why then destroy private homes and lodges inside the ranches? Similarly, why go to the extent of killing unarmed business people and wildlife? And is it a coincidence that these attacks are happening during an election period?
These are just some of the questions that local and international observers have been asking as they watch heavily armed local bandits — disguised as herders — ravage through multimillion dollar investments in Laikipia.
The attacks have not only affected White Kenyans in the region, but also the tourism sector. Very few tourists are now willing to visit the area for fear of being attacked. This has, in turn, affected a lot of businesses that rely on tourists.
Although the Kenyan government has already sent security agents in the area to handle the situation, it will have to do more than just talking tough and arresting a few local herders to win back the confidence of local and foreign investors in the area.