(This is Part One of two reports focusing on conflict and conservation issues in Laikipia County in Kenya where a number of high-profile private game reserves are located. The reports are adapted from the recent Small Arms Survery report ‘Policing the Periphery: opportunities and challenges for Kenya police reserves’).
In Laikipia County over the past forty years large areas of what was once communal land have been set aside for national parks, horticulture, agriculture, commercial ranching, and now game conservancies.
The creation of conservancies has already in some cases had the unintended
consequence of fuelling conflict. Several examples of this, including the Sera Conservancy in Samburu, where traditionally the Rendile, Borana, and Samburu have shared pastures during the dry season. With the creation of the conservancy, only Samburu scouts are able to access the land, which leads to disputes. Boundary disputes between the Lekurruki community and neighbouring Il Ngwesi groups also occurred after the creation of a conservancy in 1999.
Individual land ownership has increased through the acquisition of title deeds by elites, and land grabbing by the ruling class in Kenya as a whole has reached such proportions that it is hardly considered illegal. Further opening of the land market has allowed many new investors to buy land for agriculture, ranching, and tourism, to the point where commercial ranchers, farmers, and absentee landlords own 70 per cent of Laikipia’s land. The result has been the restriction of grazing land and water sources available to pastoralists and other locals. ‘Squatting’, or occupying private land and using private resources, by pastoralists is common and causes tensions that sometimes lead to conflict.
Laikipia County lies in the east of the Rift Valley Province, occupying an area
of 9, 500 q. km. The total population was estimated to be 399, 227 and over the past ten years has increased by nearly 20 per cent, or 2 per cent per annum on average.
Laikipia is a multi-ethnic county containing Kikuyu, Meru, Samburu, Maasai,
Kalenjin, Borana, Turkana, and people of European origin. The Kikuyu and
Meru occupy the urban and arable parts of the county, and the Europeans
mainly live on ranches. Ninety per cent of the population are pastoralists,
who occupy all parts of the county
The over-extraction of water from rivers by large- and small-scale horticulturalists leads to tensions downstream and in some cases invasions of ranches to access water points.
Rapid population growth and drought have also increased the pressure on
resources. Drought conditions that have been prevalent since 2001 have on
several occasions forced the Maasai and other pastoralist groups in search of
fresh pasture and water to migrate onto private ranches and to areas farmed
Although less intense than in many parts of the Horn of Africa, armed con-
-icts in Laikipia are widespread and of increasing concern. Inadequate
policing and the inappropriate arming of militias by the state have led to a
tendency towards self-defence and retaliation. In addition to the widespread
resource-based conflicts between pastoralists and agriculturalists, frequent
cattle raiding occurs among pastoral groups. In 2008 an estimated 8,000
people were displaced and 25 killed in conflicts between farmers and Tugen
and Turkana pastoralists in Laikipia West. The availability of
small arms has led to widespread weapons ownership and guns are now
considered a tool necessary for survival. For example, in Laikipia West pastoralists have at times united against agriculturalists, leading to calls for the latter to be armed for self-defence. Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre.
‘Policing the Periphery: opportunities and challenges for Kenya police reserves’, Small Arms Survey report, March 2013.