LAIKIPIA, Kenya, April 10 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) -
Catherine Loiyan looked in dismay at her patch of land in
Kenya's northern Laikipia County. A month ago it was bursting
with tomatoes, maize, cabbage and potatoes.
Now all that is left are a few trampled leaves and crushed
stalks after herders drove their cows onto her farm in the
drought-hit region, where competition for grazing and water
holes has ignited a series of deadly attacks in the past few
"I have nothing to show for my farming," said the mother of
six, watching clouds of dust form as she sat under an acacia
tree to escape the afternoon heat.
"I have nothing to feed my children for the next season,"
At least a dozen people have been killed in a recent spike
in insecurity, prompting President Uhuru Kenyatta to announce on
March 17 that he was sending troops to the northern regions of
Laikipia and Baringo to stem the violence.
Some residents say local politicians are fanning tensions in
the under-developed, semi-arid region in an effort to win votes
from ethnic blocs in national elections scheduled for August.
Drought is a regular feature of life in northern Kenya, but
locals say the changing climate has led to more frequent and
more severe dry spells, exacerbating the battle for scarce
Cattle herders who have roamed the region with their cows
and goats for years see no reason to stop driving herds onto
land that was once communally owned before being divided and
subdivided in the 1980s and 1990s.
“We can’t let our animals die when there are plenty of
pastures and water in these farms," said Joseph ole Rapanke, a
herder who has let his animals graze on farm fields.
Under Kenyan law, trespassers risk a prison sentence of two
years and a maximum fine of 500 shillings ($5) for illegally
entering property. They can be prosecuted under criminal law and
sued in a civil case.
But in reality, few serve time in prison.
Ole Rapanke has paid more than 16 fines for illegal herding
this year alone, both in court and out of it.
The owner of 200 cows, 50 goats and 20 sheep, Rapanke said
he has lost more than 125 animals to drought, which has scorched
grass and fodder for miles around.
"I can't risk losing more," he said. "I would rather graze
on private land and ranches and be fined 500 shillings than risk
losing an animal worth more than 20,000 shillings ($195)."
Farmers say attempts to seek justice lead only to
When Beatrice Lankenua's farm was first invaded by cattle,
she reported the matter to the authorities who told her to get
an officer from the Ministry of Agriculture officer to come and
assess the damage to her crops.
She was then told to get photographic evidence of the damage
and have an expert from the Ministry of Public Works survey any
damage to structures such as fences.
"This not only cost me money but it was so tedious a process
that by the end of it all, the illegal herders had only 500
shillings to pay in court," Lankenua said.
"A LITTLE TOO LITTLE"
Joyce Naserian, another farmer, said she had been taunted by
herders who ask whether they should pay the 500 shilling fine to
her or to the court.
"(They) are just too glad to plead guilty to the illegal
grazing charges after which they cheerfully move on," she said.
Passed in 1962, the Trespass Act was introduced when Kenya
was still a British colony - and has not been amended since.
"The Trespass Act is one of those old laws that we inherited
from the colonial government," said Ramadhan Abubakar, a partner
at Magee Wa Magee Advocates based in Kirinyaga County.
He agrees that the fine for breaking the law is now too
"This amount is a little too little and does not serve one
of the main purposes of punishment," he said. The fine needs to
be larger, he said. But "be that as it may, it is a necessary
($1 = 103.3000 Kenyan shillings)
(Reporting by Caroline Wambui; editing by Katie Nguyen. Please
credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of
Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, climate change,
women's rights, property rights and trafficking. Visit news.trust.org
to see more stories)