Ranchers in troubled Laikipia are on a charm offensive to reassure the world that it safe to visit the county despite recent skirmishes that have claimed 30 lives.
The initiative, supported by the national government, saw the county host five travel writers from Britain’s The i Magazine, Metro Online, Daily Mirror, Choice Magazine, the Square Meal Weddings and Square Meal Venues and Events.
The group had an opportunity to assess the security situation and sample what the region has in store.
Laikipia offers the discerning tourist various picnic sites, hiking expeditions, camel riding, air tours, group excursions and accommodation in tented camps, centuries-old villas, log-cabins and cottages in 48 ranches where wild animals roam freely.
The need to retain Laikipia’s global stature as a top 20 must-visit location in 2017, as stated by New York Times, became more urgent after the fatal shooting of Sosian ranch director Tristan Voorspuy on March 6.
The national government intensified operations to evict illegal grazers while individual tourist facilities issued discounted offers to avert a slump that could adversely affect business in Kenya’s wildlife-rich county.
Egerton University scholar Machira Apollos said no Laikipia resident, business people or visitors would wish to see tourism hurt since that would spell doom to thousands of people deriving livelihoods from related activities.
Dr Apollos, a conflict resolution expert, said hurting the county’s economy could disrupt Kenya’s revenue base by Sh2 billion paid annually by hospitality facilities that directly and indirectly employ upto 6,500 people.
“Ranchers and hotel operators fund university education for children from pastoralist communities, besides funding construction of schools, hospitals and cattle purchase schemes,” said Dr Apollos.
On its part, the Laikipia Wildlife Forum promised to actively engage county government leaders in Baringo, Laikipia and Samburu to formulate policies that promote fodder propagation, afforestation and water harvesting.
In its hard-hitting statement, the forum decried laxity on water management at national level which saw people living upstream use the resource to irrigate farms and for domestic consumption, leaving very little to flow downstream.
Multi-billion-shilling investments in flower and horticulture farming thrive in areas around Mount Kenya, tapping stream water originating from springs inside Mount Kenya Forest.
Earlier efforts to create a neutral zone seem to have fallen through after the government quietly declined to establish a proposed Laikipia National Park on 17,100 acres of land. The park would have acted as a buffer zone between Laikipia and Samburu counties.
This is after Samburu leaders opposed establishment of the park donated to the government by US charities, The Nature Conservancy and the African Wildlife Foundation. These groups bought the Eland Downs Ranch for establishment of the park.
The much-hyped fete was widely reviewed in newspapers and magazines across the world, congratulating ranchers for pulling resources together. The land’s title-deed was handed over to the Kenya Wildlife Service on November 10, 2011.
The land has remained fallow since then, with several attempts by Samburu community members to occupy it violently disrupted by security personnel.
Many ranches in Laikipia were established in early 1920s when ex-First World War British soldiers were allocated large chunks of land in the county, gradually creating an export-oriented beef economy. Some never settled down there but sold their land to other Europeans interested in beef production.
Among the most famous visitors to Laikipia are Microsoft’s billionaire founder Bill Gates, Microsoft’s chief executive Satya Nadella, British Royal Prince William and his wife Duchess Kate, South Africa’s Vice President Cyril Ramaphosa, soccer legend Samuel E’too and athletics icon Usain Bolt.
Revered five and four star facilities in Laikipia include Fairmont’s Mount Kenya Safari Club, Lewa Downs, Sweetwater’s Camp, billionaire Jochen Zeitz’s Segera Ranch with its eight roomed villa, Loisaba Star Beds and Ol Jogi Ranch owned by famous French-American family Alec Wildenstein.