The Kenyan farm invasions: a true picture

Deforestation in the Mau forest

Another alarm bell was set ringing this week in Kenya after the body of Tristan Voorspuy was discovered on a burnt-out farm, a day after he had been shot and killed.

The targeted killing has sparked debate about land rights and ownership, but beyond that is yet more evidence that the government does not have the lid on things.

The deafening silence emanating from State House after a high-profile targeted killing in the country is not reassuring but, increasingly, doesn't come as much of a surprise given the chief dab-champ's rapidly worsening track record of apparently not caring about the state of politics in the country.

It's over-optimistic to hope the silence is in guilty recognition of the government's complicity in the events that culminated in the killing of the former British Army officer last weekend, so instead of hopeful speculation, let's talk instead about how we ended up here.

The story begins prior to the 2013 elections, with Raila Odinga and the dream duo, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, preparing for the showdown at the ballot box. While the political crème prepared for battle, complaints began about the growing numbers of people moving in to the Mau forest, Kenya's greatest natural water-table, in search of land to sustain the country's growing population.

From the get-go, it was clear that the Mau forest was a bad choice for relocation as cutting down trees for building and farming in gazetted forests would have a knock-on effect on rainfall and water reserves. Yet people continued to enter the forest in search of land, opting for smallholding instead of heading to the tea plantations and cities.

At that time, Odinga was acting as Prime Minister and coordinator of government business and was duly handed the job of getting people out of the forest. With elections lurking around the corner, Jubilee, with Ruto as one half of its head (and Kenyatta the other), seized the opportunity to use the fact that Odinga was fronting the Mau program against him.

In the previous elections, Odinga had secured the Kalenjin vote, but Ruto was using the Mau forest project to try and play himself as the new Kalenjin candidate. Odinga meanwhile, was mercilessly tarred and feathered: Look, he doesn't care! You voted for him and now he's kicking you out of the forest!

The campaign against Odinga's forest project grew and started to attracted high profile support. The tarnishing of the government programme to stop the decimation of the water tower become so ridiculous, that a respected government minister, Dr Sang, railed against Raila's project at a televised rally, ridiculing the politician with "scientific" claims that the project was bunk, pointing out that rain comes from the sky, not the trees (and in the process imploring Kenyans to forget any basic education they had on the water cycle). Thanks to the smear campaign, Ruto became Jubilee's darling and delivered the Kalenjin vote to Uhuru, who as we now know went on to win the Presidency.

Fast-forward to 2016. The MET department predicted a drought, and the Jubilee government responded with the reassurance that there were enough food reserves to counter the effects. Bearing in mind that the Mau forest is Kenya's water tower, there was an implicit link between the cutting down of trees here and the impending drought.

On to 2017. Now people are dying. Kenya has been hit by the same drought the government claimed to have under control, but the food reserves aren't doing the job. To compound that, the only place where there is still grass is in the game reserves, where pasture grows readily as there is normally little intensive grazing from livestock. As the pastures have dried up elsewhere, pastoral communities have started to invade the reserves, killing wild animals and taking advantage of situation, poaching and killing competition for water.

But where is the President in all this? MIA as per usual, while Kenyans await insight or guidance. The killing of Voorspuy last week signals that pastoralists have reached the point where they are happy to start attacking private farms, the last frontier in preventing the decimation of wildlife.

Despite the history of land capture in Kenya, these farms represent the most significant source of funding for wildlife protection. Kenya Wildlife Service (tasked with the protection of wildlife) is underfunded by comparison to wealthy private estates with systems that work to protect wildlife and subsequently, their profits.

If farm invasion is to continue, Kenya's tourism industry will die- at which point it makes no sense for the local community to preserve wildlife and a rise in poaching becomes inevitable. Some argue that this is a way of taking back land that was stolen under colonialism, but is this the way Kenya ought to return it? By decimating natural resources and the country's economy?

At the same time, the colonial argument can't be taken at face value. There are many Kenyan politicians who are ready to exploit the rhetoric for personal gain- many of these farmers are sitting on 99 year leases which will soon be coming up for renewal. If foreign land owners can be intimidated into leaving, swathes of land are up for grabs to the market's highest bidders who, let's face it, won't be the same guys desperately hunting for pasture.

The current situation is heading in a downwards spiral; with the Voorspruy murder, a worrying symptom that the government has completely lost its monopoly over violence and is unaware, uncaring and uninterested about the consequences.

Kwame L S Otiende’s interests include political settlements, development economics, global supply chains and security in Africa. He has a BA Politics and Development from the University of London’s- School of Oriental and African studies and an MSc Global Supply Chain and Logistics Management from the University of Sussex. He is also a member of the Chartered institute of Procurement (CIPS) and Supplies and the Chartered institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT).



 Msomi is a website offering a blend of news, satire and insightful observation on African social and political affairs. 


It articulates African-centred perspectives through writing and analysis, and also covers African culture and business news in the diaspora. 


Our writers are united by a common belief in independent thought and the need for quality discussion and debate on African affairs. 


You can keep up to date with our latest articles by following Msomi on Twitter, Facebook or by subscribing to our RSS feed. 


Msomi upholds strict standards of accuracy.

Follow us
  • RSS - Black Circle
  • Twitter - Black Circle