Kenya has just witnessed the first killing of a white land owner, Tristan Voorspuy, in the current torrent of invasions, but not the first killing of a conservationist in Laikipia, when in August 2013 the Director of the Laikipia Wildlife Forum was killed under unexplained circumstances. Meanwhile, at least 20 Kenyan Africans were also killed in the upsurge of farm, ranch, and conservancy invasions, some on their own farms and others on the land of their bosses.
“I have been asked to ‘downplay’ this, because there is now some government reaction, but truth told, this needs to be made public to show the potentially devastating consequences of such farm, ranch, and conservancy invasions to Kenya’s tourism industry, and worst of all, at the start of an election year which is already causing concerns among leading overseas tour operators.
“The Kenyan government needs to react much stronger, with much greater determination to stamp out this menace and nip it in the bud before it spreads like wildfire to other conservancies, ranches, and farms.”
These were my words, written just a month ago, and it earned me the evil eye from some tourism “leaders” who had clearly hoped I would shut up and toe the line which, going by the events of the day before yesterday, lead not to less but more violence, and in this sad case, the killing of an eminent conservationist.
Tristan bought with some partners the dilapidated and degraded farm in 2005 and turned it into a showcase of how a determined conservation-minded individual and groups can stop the rot. His turning Sosian into a successful conservancy and tourist spot was evidence that much good can come of conservation in restoring degraded ranch land.
Tristan had ridden out with some companions to inspect the damage done to several farm houses on his land on previous days when the same invaders had set fire to the residences, prompting an outcry on social media over the continued inability, or unwillingness, of Kenyan security forces to stand up to the violence and invasions thought to have been encouraged by aspiring politicians ahead of the August elections. His body could not be immediately recovered due to the ongoing presence of raiders, and his horse was also shot but could not be attended to by vets – both facts ascertained by the pilot of a light aircraft who overflew the scene.
Said one source from Nairobi on condition of strict anonymity: “Our government sends the wrong message by doing so little to stem the violence. They all just look at their re-election campaign and shy away from calling a spade a spade. But this is fundamentally wrong. Most of the farms, ranches, and conservancies invaded are owned by Kenyans, and the color of one’s skin should not be used as an excuse or even to look away. The death of Tristan was entirely avoidable, but when action is taken, they send in a few policemen who are overwhelmed by the AK 47s of the invaders and then tactically withdraw, or else run away. Letting lawlessness creep into our society, in an area of huge tourism appeal, is reckless and counterproductive. I am only worried that next a tourist gets shot at or even killed, and all our efforts in Kenya to revive the sector will have been in vain.”
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Pictures of one of Richard Constant’s houses looted and burned by the invaders and raiders – reminiscent of wild west movie scenes
Mr. Jimi Kariuki, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Kenya Tourism Board, came out with a statement condemning the incident, but word from the Head of State to the Deputy President to the Cabinet Secretary of the Interior, leave alone the Inspector General of Police in Kenya, is lacking and the silence from these quarters is frankly speaking, deafening.
Said Mr. Kariuki and Ms. Lucy Karume of the Kenya Tourism Federation in their statement:
“The tourism fraternity in Kenya deeply regrets to learn of the death of Tristan Voorspuy, a co-owner of Sosian Ranch and owner of Offbeat Safaris who was killed at Sosian Ranch on Sunday, 5th March 2017 by unknown assailants who had trespassed onto the ranch apparently with groups of herdsmen seeking grazing for their livestock.
“On behalf of all industry stakeholders, we extend our condolences and sympathy to the family of Mr. Voorspuy and to the other Kenyan farmers and ranch employees who have been caught up in the conflict over pasture in the affected area in recent weeks.
“Sosian Ranch is one of the private ranches in northern Laikipia hosting a vibrant population of wildlife. During this year’s drought-like conditions, they are one of 7 ranches that have been invaded by hungry livestock and pastoralists.
“Following the incident, we would like to clarify the following:
“• The incident took place at Sosian Ranch, a 24,000-acre private ranch dedicated to cattle ranching and tourism in the Laikipia area of northern Kenya, 240 kilometers from Nairobi.
“• No tourists were involved in the incident, and there were no tourists staying on the ranch at the time of the incident.
“• Laikipia is one of 47 counties within Kenya and over 9,000 square kilometers in size. It is well-known for its excellent wildlife and ecotourism facilities. Laikipia’s wildlife is second only to the Maasai Mara.
“• The present unrest and insecurity are restricted to a few localities and a small number of ranches and that the well-known wildlife conservancies and tourism facilities in the rest of Laikipia are not affected and remain calm and peaceful.
“Kenya covers an area of approximately 582,650 square kilometers and is frequently compared to an area the size of France. Tourism activity continues as normal in most of Laikipia and throughout the rest of the country with holidaymakers currently on safari in the country’s national parks and visiting its popular coastal resorts.
“The tourism Industry continues to maintain very close contact with the stakeholders in Laikipia and a fact-finding trip to Laikipia was earlier carried out by [the] Kenya Tourism Board (KTB) and Kenya Tourism Federation (KTF) industry executives to assess the situation on the ground. We fully support the investigations being carried out by the police and other relevant authorities to bring the perpetrators of these lawless acts to justice.
“We believe that the Government of Kenya will be giving the highest priority to restoring law and order for all the people in the affected area so that they can enjoy the normal peace and security found throughout the rest of Laikipia county.
Jimi Kariuki, Chairman, Kenya Tourism Board (KTB)
Lucy Karume, Chairperson, Kenya Tourism Federation (KTF)”
There was some instant and notable dissent expressed to this correspondent over the heavy emphasis on “no tourists came to harm” as the life of Kenyans – white, brown and black – is just as valuable and important as are the lives of tourists, albeit an incident involving the latter would no doubt promptly bring the heavy hand of sections of the international media down on Kenya once again.
As a big Kenyan delegation is now in Berlin for the annual ITB Tourism Trade Show, the largest in the world, the aftermath of the Sosian attack and potentially more such invasions will be at the forefront of exhibitors’ minds, hoping for a return to peace and quiet and a determined reaction by Kenya’s security forces to deal with the raiders once and for all.
All the best to them in promoting Kenya alongside her East African partners while their government at home continues to ponder and wave and weave in the face of such clearly orchestrated and coordinated violence in the heartland of the country.