July 25th 2017

Media / Watchdog

British rancher's killing raises fears of Zimbabwe-style land seizures

The Sun’s story reported of the rancher's humanity right in th first paragraph, indicating that the “father-of-two was killed in 'tribal battleground' that was a popular destination with Britain's royal family, according to reports.”

By Priscillah Wanjirupwanjiru@kenyafreepress.comMonday, 06 Mar 2017 11:14 EAT

The late Voorspuy.

The killing of a British rancher, Tristan Voorspuy, at his Laikipia farm on Sunday has triggered anxieties in the west that Kenya may go the Zimbabwe way. International media reporting of the incident left no doubt that it could be the start of land seizures from the British. The reports also revealed the high concern that media, both foreign and local, place on the lives of ranchers, of whom only one had been killed in a conflict that has taken the lives of dozens of local farmers and some security officials.

Mr Voorspuy was killed after he rode his horse into an ambush on is 24,000-acre Sosian Ranch while inspecting the remains of a friend’s home that had been burnt down by herders a few days earlier. Neighbours said that Mr Voorspuy, one of Sosian’s co-owners, was shot dead and his houses torched. The reporting in most foreign press gave detailed accounts of the rancher; many paid tribute to him as "one of Kenya’s finest horsemen".

Lost in the reporting was the acute drought shortage that northern Kenya has suffered for months which has spawned conflict between pastoral communities and settled farmers and ranchers. Hhundreds of herders have, over the past few months, driven thousands of animals into the ranches, mostly owned by Kenyans of British extraction. Late February, the British High Commission asked the government to address the issue as it denied reports that it had issued a travel ban for its citizens to Laikipia.

The Sun’s headline story, Ex-British Army officer Tristan Voorspuy shot dead ‘by intruders’ at his Kenyan Safari park ranch, reported of the rancher's humanity right in th first paragraph, indicating that the “father-of-two was killed in 'tribal battleground' that was a popular destination with Britain's royal family, according to reports.”

ABC News suggested the raid may be part of a wider invasion. The story, British man shot to death in Kenya during ranch invasion, was followed by a kicker that said Mr Voorspuy was shot sometime after going to inspect some of his lodges, which had been burned by the attacker. British father of two shot dead at Kenyan ranch, was Reuters’ headline. “A British man was shot dead in northern Kenya on Sunday at a private ranch in the Laikipia area.” 

The BBC’s headline, Tristan Voorspuy, ex-British army officer, killed in Kenya, reported that “Tristan Voorspuy was killed by pastoral herders on Sunday in Laikipia while inspecting some of his lodges, a local police official told Associated Press.” CNC News, British man shot to death in Kenya during ranch invasion, said “A British man was shot to death by pastoral herders in central Kenya who have been invading large farms, some of which double as wildlife conservation areas, officials said Sunday.”

Even Kenyan media channels humanized the man first. British Father Of Two Shot Dead At Sosian Ranch in Laikipia was the headline of KU TV, a platform of Kenyatta University. “A British man was shot dead on Sunday at a private ranch in the Laikipia area, two of the man’s neighbours said, and a legislator warned that local politicians were stoking violence as elections approach.”

The Guardian wrote, British ranch owner killed by armed raiders in Kenya, a more balanced article whose opening read, “A British man has been shot dead on his ranch in central Kenya, in a crime officials blame on armed herders responsible for land invasions in the area.”

The Independent also was more nuanced. Its headline, Former guards officer shot dead by tribal warriors in ambush on his ranch in Kenya, indicated early on that Mr Voorspuy’s death was “the first of a white farmer since the invasions began last year”.

Since the onset of the drought in November, more than 15,000 pastoralists from West Pokot, Isiolo, Samburu and Baringo have driven more than 140,000 livestock into ranches, conservancies and private farms in Laikipia North and West districts. The epicenter of the conflict has been in Laikipia North, but the impact has spilled over to Laikipia East and West.

Laikipia County commissioner Onesmus Kyatha has led government teams trying to combat the herders who invaded the ranches. “We have in the past few months successfully evicted more than 63,000 animals from private land. Security agents have also arrested and prosecuted 150 illegal grazers. An MP accused of incitement has also been charged in court,” Mr Kyatha told the Nation in February.

Given the heavy arms born by the herders, security officials have had to prepare for heavy fighting. Six months ago, a pastoralist, Mr Playa Lelekina was shot dead by police during an altercation between police and vigilantes. The police too have suffered some death toll. Laikipia West police commander Mirengo Moherai was shot in an operation against illegal grazers.

The police commander was shot in the coming of senior security officers including county police boss Simon Kipkeu, according to reports given to media by the local representative (known as MCA) Peter Thomi.

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