Sosian Ranch Director Tristan Voorspuy PHOTO:COURTESY
For the last four months, ranchers in Laikipia County have witnessed unprecedented invasions of their farms by heavily armed illegal herders.
The invasions reached a tragic peak on Sunday, when Sosian Ranch Director Tristan Voorspuy was shot and killed, further escalating the tension between ranch owners and the herders.
Mr Voorspuy, a father of two, was an ex-British soldier who had lived in Kenya for decades. He also ran a tour company called Offbeat Safaris Ltd.
Yesterday, armed police kept vigil on the expansive farm as workers made frantic efforts to move hundreds of head of cattle from the troubled ranch to neighbouring properties.
Directorate of Criminal Investigations boss Ndegwa Muhoro visited the farm on Monday morning alongside senior police bosses from the county.
The scene of the Sunday evening attack was a few kilometres inside the expansive ranch. Initial reports indicate that Voorspuy was felled by attackers who ambushed him as he toured the farm on horseback.
According to Richard Constant, a Sosian Farm shareholder, Voorspuy rode out after learning that the herders had razed property worth millions of shillings.
“Voorspuy was attacked as he toured the farm after the herders razed shareholders’ cottages. I lost everything in the fire. When Voorspuy was informed, he decided to tour the farm on horseback,” saidMr Constant.
He described Voorspuy as a true son of Kenya and a firm believer in the country’s tourism sector.
“Voorspuy pooled five investors into Sosian Ranch several years ago. We have invested heavily in the ranch and all the money generated has been ploughed back. We have lost a true supporter of local tourism,” he said.
Inside the 24,000-acre ranch also lies Sosian Lodge, a prime tourist site patronised by both local and international tourists. However, following the invasion, the managers cancelled all bookings.
“The sustained invasion has forced us to cancel all bookings. This has been a blow to tourism locally and even on a national level. We have received calls from all over the world,” said Constant.
Ranch workers described the late director as a horse lover who was keen on expanding tourism and livestock farming in the area despite the onslaught from armed herders.
“Voorspuy was a gentle boss who was keen on his horses. When he was on the farm he would be tending to the horses and large herds of livestock,” said one worker.
Laikipia Farmers Association chairman Martin Evans, who also owns Ol Maisor Ranch, said the invasions began several years ago, and that they had nothing to do with the drought currently sweeping across the region.
“The invasions targeting ranches in Laikipia have been going on for some years now. It’s wrong for anybody to blame the ongoing drought; it is insincere,” he said.
Mr Evans said failure by police to disarm the invaders had affected efforts by the ranchers to dialogue with the herders.
“We have sought help from Government but it has not been forthcoming. The loss of life is a wake-up call and the Government needs to act fast. This is becoming a menace.”
He said systematic failure by Government security machinery had seen several ranchers lose property worth millions of shillings.
“We thought the herders were interested in pasture but as time went by they came for our property. My plane has been shot at several times by the herders,” he said.
Among the ranches affected are Mugie, Kifuko, Laikipia Nature and Conservancy, Sosian, Jennings Farm and Ol Maisor.
“We are so shocked that they have killed one of their own after he protested against the destruction of his property. They had just burnt down one of the lodges on his farm and it was when he protested that they killed him,” said Lucy Jennings, the owner of Jennings Farm.
She claimed there was more than met the eye in the recent killing, denying it has anything to do with pasture.
“It seems they want us to leave the land so that they can take it over.These is not just the normal fight over pasture,” she said.
The rancher said that in the past, they lived in harmony with the pastoralists and wondered why they had now turned against them.
“In the past we have offered them land to graze their animals once the drought hit the area but we wonder why they have turned against us this time. We suspect that they want to take over the land we own forcefully,” she said.
Herders have been coming to Laikipia from the nearby Baringo and Samburu counties, which has resulted in conflict between the landowners and the pastoralists, causing tension and destruction of property.
The killing of Voorspuy in broad daylight has been blamed on illegal herders said to come from the neighbouring counties.
According to some farm workers, politicians looking to take over the land forcefully are to blame for the conflict.
Sossian ward MCA Jacob Edung agreed with the workers.
“We have heard of leaders transporting the pastoralists to Laikipia so they can vote for them in the oncoming elections,” said Mr Edung.
He blamed Government officials for failing to tackle the matter even after they had received information.
“We have always informed the Government on time about these illegal grazers but very little has been done. Now we have witnessed the first death of a rancher,” he said.