The drawn-out conflict between big landowners and herders in Laikipia County has caused the closure of Sosian Ranch, causing fears of wider job losses in the fragile tourist circuit.
Sosian Ranch is one of the premier tourist facilities located in the violence-prone Laikipia West.
The directors of Sosian ranch closed the lodge on Friday – three months after herders killed its manager – citing months of violence, invasions and vandalism as herders continue to defy heavy deployment of security personnel.
The closure caused a loss of 21 direct jobs, while tens of local suppliers to the lodge will also be left without a market for their goods.
“The Sosian Ranch directors have made the very difficult decision to shut the lodge for the foreseeable future,” the Laikipia Farmers’ Association (LFA), a lobby group for the property owners, said in a statement.
“Sosian Ranch was running as a successful Laikipian commercial business, paying taxes and creating employment,” LFA quotes one of the Sosian Ranch directors, Richard Constant, as having said.
Landowners in Laikipia claim they pumped almost Sh4 billion into the local economy in 2016, ranking among the country’s top employers and taxpayers.
The Laikipia land invasions have caused tension between Kenya and the UK, with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson visiting the affected farmers in March.
The lobby says invaders on the 24,000-acre Sosian ranch have killed 13 elephants and claimed numerous other species, including the endangered Grevy’s zebra, impala, hartebeest and buffaloes since the beginning of the year.
Sosian Ranch, acquired in 2002 with the aim of creating a cattle ranch alongside a conservancy for tourism, has created 150 permanent jobs according to the LFA data.
“The Directors of Sosian will revisit the re-opening of the lodge when and if it is safe to do so. However, they believe it will take several years to rebuild what was a productive, successful business,” the statement added.
The story is the same elsewhere in Laikipia West where property owners are counting similar losses.
Apart from the April attack on conservationist and author Kuki Gallman by herders, other investors are also equally vulnerable in the spate of violence that has claimed both lives and property.
Between January and March, bandits have burned down Mukutan Lodge belonging to the Laikipia Nature Conservancy and another one owned by Suyan Ranch.
“The destruction of three valuable properties and the murder of Tristan Voorspuy can be laid squarely at the door of those political leaders who incited communities to invade private property,” the LFA said in a statement.
In its bid to contain the violence, the government has deployed the regular police, military personnel and created a no-arm zone in the area but insecurity persists.