Politics to blame for perennial conflicts in Laikipia

Wednesday, July 28th, 2021 00:00 |
Security officers keep vigil after a past attack. Photo/PD/file

Fred Matiang’i  

The government is determined to end conflicts between pastoralists and ranchers in Laikipia County and other parts of the country by confronting the real reasons behind the invasion of private property.

Periodic clashes between pastoralists and ranchers have left a trail of death and destruction in Laikipia and in other parts of the country.

That the pattern of the internecine invasions and the causative factors is predictable, reinforces the urgency to bring it to an end.

Over the years, my predecessors at the Interior Ministry have engaged in the quest for lasting peace in these regions.

Despite the attention and resources committed, these areas are yet to know peace. To obtain better results, we must do things differently.

At the heart of the solution must be an honest and bold appreciation of the underlying causes of the conflict.

A common narrative is that drought triggers pastoralists’ instinctive search for pasture and water. This inevitably leads them to private ranches.

The resistance by ranchers to the apparent invasion and the pastoralists’ determination to access these resources becomes the perfect powder keg for deadly feuds.

Evidence gathered by security and intelligence agents, however, points to a more insidious agenda.

The clashes, historically and as is manifesting now, tend to flare-up in the build-up to elections, around key electoral processes such as voter registration or during high stakes political discourses that invite residents’ decision-making. 

If you peer beneath the façade of drought-induced crisis, there emerges a picture of a sinister plot that is informed by politics of conquest, ethnic supremacy, clan chauvinism and petty balkanisation motivated by individual political interests.

What stokes the violence is an entrenched culture of defiance at legitimate authority that has unfortunately become synonymous with heroism in the country. 

We should smoke out those hiding behind cultural practices to mask leadership deficiencies and incompetence.

Political practice is the greatest agent of criminal activities in Kenya. Leaders exploit the poor by using them as a political collateral in supremacy conquests.

Seasonal disputes in pastoral lands point to incitement by some politicians who exploit violence to advance political, commercial and criminal interests. 

There is an unhealthy symbiosis between politics and crime in regions where electoral contests are organised around clan and ethnic showdown and exclusion.

In such regions, drought becomes an excuse for murder and mayhem. The political leaders profit from the violence while the masses pay the price with lost lives and destroyed livelihoods.

In Laikipia, the government has engaged both ranchers and pastoralists in a bid to broker peaceful coexistence and, where possible, to share pasture and water resources in mutually beneficial arrangements.

But many such agreements are breached by pastoralists who sneak in large herds of animals beyond the agreed number and for durations exceeding the stated period.

There are also complaints of ranchers losing animals to pastoralists in acts of plain theft.

Uncontrolled pastoral herds also have the attendant risk of spreading diseases.

The sheer size of some of the herds and the logistics of coordinating their movement further suggests that not all the animals belong to innocent herdsmen in pursuit of pasture.

Prominent names, including elected leaders, are known to own some of the biggest migratory herds.

The rewards that the architects of the conflicts reap from perpetuating the violence means it’s not in their interests to stop it.

Livestock farming is a serious business. It creates jobs and supports food security and the government supports it.

However, this shall be done under the auspices of the law and the right to private property.

We also encourage herders to take advantage of opportunities in investments and sector reforms introduced by the government.

For instance, since its takeover by the Kenya Defence Forces, the Kenya Meat Commission now offers premium and prompt payments for livestock.

Rather than risk confrontations in search for pasture or watch animals waste away, pastoralists have the option of selling during drought to restock during seasons of plenty.

There are good examples of how visionary leadership can deliver communities from the shackles of mercantile violence.

In West Pokot for instance, the county leadership has successfully managed to minimise these conflicts through well-thought out policies, investment in social empowerment and re-engineering of cultural practices, like ownership of large unsustainable herds, that address the root cause of the conflicts. The people of West Pokot now know peace. — The writer is the Cabinet Secretary for Interior and Coordination of National Government

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