EXCLUSIVE: Slain British rancher 'tried in vain to reach out to pastoral herders' in Kenya

2017-03-16 06:06

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Nairobi – Two weeks ago, a British rancher, Tristan Voorspuy, was killed by pastoral herders in the in the north of the east African country of Kenya.

Voorspuy, a dual Kenyan and British national, was found dead on March 5 at the Sosian ranch in Laikipia County, some 500km north of the capital Nairobi. He co-owned the ranch.

According to reports Voorspuy met his fate as he "ventured" out on horseback to visit a site on the ranch where two cottages had been set ablaze by the herders.

Numerous attacks have taken place in drought-stricken Laikipia region in recent months as armed cattle herders searching for scarce grazing have driven tens of thousands of cattle onto private farms and ranches from poor quality communal land. At least a dozen people have been killed.

The carcass of Voorspuy's horse was also found with bullet wounds.

Despite concerted efforts by family and staff, the deceased insisted on visiting the site but was attacked by the heavily armed herders who have illegally set camp in the ranch since January.

 Voorspuy's body, according to farm staff, had seven bullet wounds.

"He was inhumanely shot dead," a seething Kenyan Police chief Joseph Boinett confirmed. "We will bring those responsible to book," he said.

Not new

So far, 300 arrests have been made by Kenyan authorities, including a Kenyan Member of Parliament thought to have played a role in the killing.

This is not the first attack of this kind in the region in recent months.  Other ranches having also been swamped by the heavily armed herders seeking what is left of pasture and water for their cattle.

According to police reports, at least 21 people have been killed in the violence in the region so far. But Voorspuy’s death, being the first of a white ranch owner since the invasions began in October 2016, has finally brought the world's attention to the ongoing crisis.

According to ranch staff who spoke to News24 on condition of anonymity, Voorspuy had previously tried in vain to reach out to the herders for talks to resolve the issue of their illegal stay in the expansive 24 000 acre farm.

"He tried to reach out to them but they were unco-operative. They only saw force as a means of getting their way," a staff member said.

Before his killing, Voorspuy and other ranch owners had held talks with police bosses in the region to chart a way forward over the invasions that had threatened to turn ugly.

"We had met severally and he (Voorspuy) had sought to look for amicable ways to deal with the invaders," Laikipia Police Commander Simon Kipkeu told News24.

Ancestral rights 

The pastoral herders have invaded ranches in the Laikipia region, which they claim they have ancestral rights to.

In the last six months, according to the Laikipia County government, about 10 000 pastoralists from Baringo, Isiolo and Samburu counties all in northern Kenya, with around 135 000 cattle have invaded Laikipia and specifically targeted ranches.

The ranches that have so far been invaded include; Sosian, Mugie Conservancy, Segera, Loisaba, Suyian Ranch, El Karama, Mutara, Ol Malo Sabuk, Ol Pejeta conservancy among others.

Sosian fits the bill for the desperate herders. Having leased it in 1999 as an overgrazed and bare property left to rot, Voorspuy and his co-directors had worked tremendously hard over the years to restore it to close its initial state using stringent measures, including under grazing.

Ranch owners such as Voorspuy insisted that grazing land must be assigned to the ratio of one head of cattle per 15 acres to help conserve the vital eco-system, but with desperate herders not willing to negotiate, an impasse had been reached.

And with continued drought in the region - a recurring theme since the 1980s - and pastoral herders refusing to sign treaties, the main worry is that the invasions will come back to haunt Kenyans in future.

Read more on:    kenya  |  east africa

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