How Kenyan Drought Turned Into Violence

The shooting of a novelist and conservationist in Kenya has drawn attention to the violent tensions between landowners and herders who are trying to keep their animals alive in a widespread drought.

Kuki Gallmann was shot in the stomach while assessing buildings that had been burned by arsonists the day before. It was not the first time the luxury tourism lodges at her Laikipia Nature Conservancy had been targeted. And last month, British national and ranch owner Tristan Voorspuy was killed when he went to inspect similar damage. At least 30 people have been killed in recent conflicts over grazing land.

Here’s a look at why the tensions emerged and the political angle some say exists.


Kenya’s drought has been declared a national disaster, and it affects roughly half the country. Herders, who rely on their cattle for their livelihoods, have been finding it increasingly difficult to find the grazing land and water to support their animals. According to Kenya’s government, hundreds if not thousands of herders have sought pasture in Laikipia, the region where Gallmann was shot, for their dying cattle.

The Laikipia Farmers Association says more than 30 people have died since the land invasions started late last year. Kenya’s military and police have been working to disarm and drive the herders and their animals out of ranches they’ve invaded, but their actions appear to have escalated the violence as herders are accused of simply moving from one ranch to another.


Land has been one of the major causes of conflict in Kenya, where many ranches, some of which double as wildlife conservancies, were acquired during the period of British colonial rule. Others were purchased after Kenya became independent in 1963. Europeans hold some of the large-scale farms. There has never been any sustained government effort to address land injustices that have claimed since colonial times.

The Laikipia Farmers Association says it previously had arrangements with herders to allow them to feed their animals on the ranches when there is little or no grazing elsewhere. But the association says the current invasions have been incited by politicians campaigning for the August elections. The association says the politicians are telling the herders that the lease of the lands has expired and if they evict the ranchers they can occupy it.

Kenya’s government has not commented on those accusations. A government Truth Justice and Reconciliation report released in 2013 said politicians often exploit real or perceived land injustices especially around election time for personal gain.

Source: Associated Press