, NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 28 – Inspector General of Police Joseph Boinnet has denied that security officers deployed in Laikipia killed over 500 cows belonging to herders who have illegally invaded private ranches in the vast county.
The Inspector General said the security apparatus were largely focused on restoring law and order in the area which has seen rising tension between the owners of the private ranches and the herders—leading to deaths of more than 30 people since December last year.
“It is probably the bandits who killed them and not ourselves,” the IG told journalists on Tuesday, when asked if police officers were involved in the killings of the cows whose carcasses were discovered on Monday.
Thousands of herders — some armed with spears, others with AK47s — have invaded private ranches and wildlife parks with their livestock, slaughtering animals and destroying property in central Kenya’s Laikipia, as they go in search of pasture in the drought stricken-country.
Elephants, lion, buffalo and zebra have been slaughtered by the herders who come with tens of thousands of livestock, and black and white landowners alike speak of invasions, fear and siege.
But the reasons behind the invasions are complex.
While some point to the drought gripping the country, and a spike in human and livestock populations, others say the looming election in August and long-running land gripes have sparked tensions.
Local vernacular media have often reported that votes are being offered in exchange for land grabs.
Meanwhile the ethnic logic of Kenyan politics means some candidates stand to benefit from a favourable shift in population dynamics ahead of the vote.
President Uhuru Kenyatta deployed troops to the volatile region two weeks ago, following increased cases of insecurity that led to the killing of British rancher Tristan Voorspuy who owned Sosian ranch–one of the largest there.
On Tuesday, the IG said the operation, together with that in the North Rift “is going well as planned”.
“I don’t want to be misconstrued that certain unfortunate things are part of the plan,” he stated. “We are prosecuting the operation as we had planned it, to drive out bandits and we are succeeding.”
He termed the operation as a success so far saying a number of guns had been recovered.
Reports from the ground however, indicate that tension remains high in the volatile North Rift despite the ongoing joint security operation by the National Police Service and the Kenya Defence Forces.
On Monday, the Laikipia Farmers’ Association said they fully supported the security operation to restore order after herders illegally drove tens of thousands of cattle into private and communal land.
“The LFA supports the government’s decision to effect police and KDF operations to restore law and order in areas that have fallen victim to the violent actions of illegally armed individuals among pastoralists who have moved their livestock to Laikipia,” LFA Chairman Martin Evans said.
“The relevant command hierarchies of these security agencies direct the actions of all of their officers who take part in these operations. The LFA and its members rightly have absolutely no influence or voice in their planning or execution, and anyone suggesting differently is spreading falsehoods we believe for their own propagandist aims.”
“No matter the violence that some of our members have endured as this illegal grazing crisis has continued, no one in the LFA would condone the type of action we are being accused of. Along with Laikipia’s resident pastoralists, its smallholder farmers, its wildlife, and its business community, our members are the victims of this crisis, not its instigators.”
Already, more than 30 people have been killed and hundreds more have suffered losses since the crisis began.
Herders from outside Laikipia have driven more than 200,000 cattle, sheep, and goats into the county in search of pasture as overgrazing and now drought bites further north.
Effective disarmament is the most urgent goal, followed by a peaceful dialogue between all affected parties including the owners of the herds illegally grazing private and communal land in Laikipia, in order to find a permanent solution acceptable to all sides, the LFA said.