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By Salad Malicha


I wish to put the record straight to all on behalf of all pastoralists’ stakeholders on matters pertaining to Isiolo County community land. As the gateway to the former Northern Frontier District, Isiolo County has long been viewed as marking the beginning of a ‘Kenya B’ – a ‘high potential’ desert region of communally owned land by the pastoralists whose economic mainstay is livestock – set in contrast to more economically productive and individually owned land to the south. In recent years, however, Isiolo has been reframed as the gateway to a region of economic potential with the announcement of the ambitious Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) project, which seeks to transform the town into an economic hub along an infrastructure network spanning the north.

Mosque in Isiolo town

While ‘new frontier’ discourses portray the transformation of Isiolo and Northern Kenya as a process of conversion and integration into the ‘nation proper’, and in particular through the formalisation of its land, it is our view that transformations in Isiolo town are rather occurring through the articulations or ‘frictions’ between the anticipation of the projects and Isiolo’s historical politics of land and settlement.

Since the town’s establishment in the early twentieth century, questions over who ‘owns’ the town have manifested in inter-ethnic competition over territory. The focus of this competition shifted to residential plots during the 1990s, when ownership of land at the town’s edges began to be re-written through ‘town planning’ initiatives and the formal allocation of plots. Between 2014 and 2015, the anticipation of LAPSSET and the increased demand for plots that accompanied it was amplifying the politics of land, and ethnic identity in the town.

Through tracing the historical micro-politics of settlement and the making of plots, our opinion demonstrates how transformations in the town are occurring through the anticipation of LAPSSET, its articulation with historical politics of belonging, and local agency as people seek to secure a place in the anticipated city of the future.


It was not only unfortunate but also rather absurd when the respected Governor for Meru county Hon. Kiraitu Murungi sunk to the lowest ebb in modern day Kenya. Governor Kiraitu had an enviable record of fighting for democracy during the dark days KANU juggernaut.

Surprisingly he began beating empty and hollow drums of war when he was a Senator of the same county and much worse he was pathetically cantankerous by issuing out reckless statements by inciting communities against each other… Isiolo-Meru communities. Just like the proverbial lizard that jumped from high Iroko tree and praised itself as if no one else did it….

The Governor has perfected nothing new, it is just a replica of what other politicians not of his ilk has been issuing inflammatory remarks in broad day light in the very eyes of government security agencies way back in November 2015 when he brazenly went on record that he will buy ‘‘maize’ (read bullets) to feed the pastoralists so that they all die.’ The then Meru Senator currently Governor claimed that cattle rustling incidents, which have resulted in several deaths, was part of a wider plan by the “Isiolo County government to flush Meru people out of their land.’’ He further added, “We will not allow that to happen. It is not our livestock that they want. Isiolo County government wants our land.’’

The then Senator Kiraitu went on to spit another barbs, “They want to instill fear in our people so that they run away from their farms. They will kill others today or tomorrow because they are bent on taking our land. We know the political game they are playing. We do not want their animals in our land again,”

They say in law a man is guilty when he violates the rights of others. In ethics he is guilty if he only thinks of doing so. No person, no place, and no thing has any power over us, in our minds, we will find it in our lives. Governor Kiraitu flagrantly breached due process of the law. Peace and harmony, united and strong, we must have one people, one nation, one flag. Nature is based on harmony. So it says if we want to survive and become more like nature, then we actually have to understand that it’s cooperation versus competition.

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The requirements for our evolution have changed. Survival is no longer sufficient. Our evolution now requires us to develop spiritually – to become emotionally aware and make responsible choices. It requires us to align ourselves with the values of the soul – harmony, cooperation, sharing, and reverence for life. The long and short of it is, you cannot ask people to coexist by having one side bow their heads and rely on a solution that is only good for the other side.

Conventionally, what he can rather do is to stop forceful encroachment and engage in dialogue. Everyone knows that violence begets violence and breeds more hatred. We need to find our way together. Invariably he has a hidden agenda that doesn’t work for the community.

In the recent past, Meru County Governor visited Epiding village, Ngaremara Ward in Isiolo County and made the following outrageous pronouncements;

THAT: He purportedly launched a borehole, distributed 500 bags of foodstuff and issued books Kiwanja Primary School which is a classical case of dangling carrot and stick to woo the naive pastoralists.

THAT: He created a ward in the name of Special Ward contrary to the constitution of Kenya and other relevant statutes (County Government Act, Intergovernmental Relations Act and Independent and Electoral Boundaries Act). Seemingly, Governor Kiraitu is becoming law unto himself by blatant violation of county territorial protections.

THAT: Meru County is now Arid and Semi-Arid County so that he can rake in large chunk of equalization fund and yet Meru County is not classified as ASAL County.

THAT: He assured the residents that the land titling process is on and 50 land surveyors will be deployed at the adjudication sections to ensure titles are issued by January next year.

THAT: He termed pastoralism and livestock rearing as retrogressive and old age practices.

Governor Kiraitu’s action tantamount to contempt of court in the Kenyan judicial which system is based on the English law inherited from the country’s former colonisers and by precedent — judgments already made in law. Outright consequences of disobedience or disregard of court orders is a fairly reliable down payment for anarchy. The very land he christened ‘special ward’ is a disputed land pursuant to the Justice Lenaola’s ruling of Constitutional petition 511 of 2015 delivered on 6th June 2017.

Governor Kiraitu’’s action is brazen assault on the rule of law, and threatens the very basis of our constitutional order. Deliberate disobedience of court orders has been deemed as undermining of the justice system and leads to a complete state of lawlessness and a breakdown of society.

As radical as it may sound, the wastage and resultant losses, or otherwise – as a result of a disrespect, disregard and utter disobedience of court orders far outweigh the inconveniences that may be occasioned by such scrutiny.

Moreover, the Senate has passed a law permitting the change of county boundaries through petitions to the House. The Bill was sponsored by Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr, County Boundaries Bill, 2017.

  • According to the Bill, the formation of a county boundaries mediation committee will help resolve boundary disputes. The petition would need to be supported by at least 15 per cent of registered voters in the particular county.

  • The petition can be filed by residents, MCAs or governors of the affected county.

  • After the filing, IEBC will help a special Senate committee look into the matter to ensure the petition is backed by the threshold of voters.

  • Fundamentally, it is important to note that since the promulgation of the Constitution, there have been multiple disputes between counties and on boundary matters.

  • The Senate has also been called upon by the counties to and their residents to intervene in such matters in order to comprehensively settle ongoing disputes.

Kenya has embarked on implementation of the new constitution. All parties must be reminded of the need to observe the rule of law which is the core and the foundation of our society. Without the observance and obedience of the orders of the court by organs of state and all persons, the aspirations of Kenyans set out in the Constitution will remain a mirage. Governor Kiraitu is openly plunging Isiolo/Meru Counties in anarchy.

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A huge transport infrastructure project due to link Kenya’s coast, Juba in South Sudan, and Ethiopia by 2030 is raising questions about the potential impact on the livelihoods of pastoralists, and protection and compensation for those adversely affected.

LAPSSET Corridor map

The 500-metre wide LAPSSET corridor is expected eventually to form part of an equatorial land bridge linking eastern and western Africa from Juba via Bangui in the Central African Republic to Douala, Cameroon.

Pundits have been highlighting the challenges ahead that borders on security and livelihood. The real challenge is how to realise LAPSSET’s transformative prospect in terms of regional integration, wealth and opportunities while safeguarding the environment, and the rights and livelihoods of those particularly pastoralists whose lands the project will cross. Communities through whose land the LAPSSET corridor will pass are worried about potential land grabs and livelihood disruptions. There is no such thing as free land in pastoral nomadic communities. Land is owned communally and this ought to be the route to negotiation over LAPSSET.


While LAPSSET will go through an area that has never been developed before (enabling connectivity to the rest of the world, access to markets for livestock and hopes for investment in minerals’ exploration), there are concerns about potential adverse effects on pastoral livelihoods with the blocking off of migratory routes. There is a need to address these problems from a host community point of view. The issue of land and its management is central to the LAPSSET project. “There is no such thing as free land in pastoral nomadic communities”. Land is owned communally and this ought to be the route to negotiation over LAPSSET.

A mixed approach was employed with multi-stage, snowball and purposive sampling techniques. Life experiences and issues of concern raised by the pastoralist communities’ has never been put into considerations. The pastoralist communities living along the Project corridor have not been sensitized about the projects. They were not informed about the impacts that the project would have on their lives.

In addition, the communities were not adequately involved in various stages of project implementation. Although information dissemination forums were organized occasionally in Isiolo Town secretly, majority of the residents are still speculating on the main route the corridor will be taking, who among them would be affected and how they would be compensated. There are inherent fears that the mega projects will not enhance any basic social services; instead, these services will be further threatened by land grabbers and strained access to basic services due to the influx of people from neighbouring counties.

Public participation and information dissemination in the project should be heightened to assist in addressing speculation that is straining the peaceful co-existence of people in this region.

The LAPSSET project is expected to open up northern areas, which account for most of Kenya’s land mass but remain largely under-developed. Recent discoveries of huge oil and water resources there are expected to boost investment. The resources intended to support this project are inherent in the area. But this new focus on previously marginalized regions has left residents wary of exploitation. We should plan this properly to avoid a Niger Delta and a Palestine/Israel situation. We cannot afford to be ignored for another 50 years.

Buffalo Spring national reserve gate

LAPSSET will traverse regions such as Garissa, Moyale, Lodwar and Isiolo, which are characterized by insecurity due to a proliferation of small arms following decades of state neglect. For LAPSSET’s success, the project’s implementation should be anchored to a wider process of national devolution set in motion by a new constitution adopted in 2010.


The County Government

  • It is the responsibility of the county government to conduct extensive public participation to sensitize the public and create awareness on the purported development of this mega project in collaboration with the National Government through LAPSSET Development Corridor Authority.

  • The county government should consult the public before they make key decisions that affect the people’s destiny like re-routing of the LAPSSET Corridor so that the public may give their informed opinion.

  • Seek indulgence of the Isiolo County Government through the County Assembly to facilitate and fast track the process of the Court judgement.

  • The county government should incorporate the LAPSSET Corridor Development plan in their County Integrated Development Plan, since the project schedule is already known.

  • The county government should demand for protection of pastoralists’ community land, social service provision (water, health care facilities, education institutions, employment for the locals, fair compensation, etc.) alongside projects to ensure that the people of Isiolo are not de-marginalized by such mega investment projects.

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Civil Society Groups

  • The civil society agencies, including religious movements, council of elders, professionals and Isiolo land stakeholders should be the true representatives and eye-openers of the marginalized voiceless members of the public.

  • They should alert, educate, sensitize and organize the public for any public picketing/demonstrations as the last resort wherever the people’s basic rights are violated.

  • Mobilize local, national and international organizations to support this noble cause so that our cries can be heard far and beyond

  • They should create firm lobby groups within the community as an avenue for addressing basic rights violations.

  • Table petitions on the same in both Houses of Parliament; National Assembly and The Senate

The Local Community

  • Existing intelligence reveals that the LAPSSET project in Isiolo County is hitherto faced with serious opposition from the indigenous communities whose lifestyle is pastoralism since time immemorial before the idea of the project was hatched;

  • It is evident that proper compulsory land acquisition procedures as stipulated in Part VIII of the Land Act will not be properly followed considering that to date, a huge segment of people who claim to have been evicted from Isiolo Airport land have not been compensated instead, unfamiliar people claimed compensation for the same land. Compulsory Land Acquisition in part VIII of the Lands Act of 2010 provides the procedures for land acquisition for public purposes but it should be simultaneously read with Community Land Act;

  • From a cultural perspective, historical social heritage, both domestic and wildlife habitat and traditional/ancestral birth places (settlements) are virtually lost whenever indigenous land is compulsorily acquired by the state for development mega projects;

  • Traditionally, a lost family household psychologically interferes with a person’s social stability and peace of mind. Some of these attributes are associated with one’s social heritage, since they form a mental cognitive view that people always remember as a part of their sense of belonging owing to the fact that it is their constitutional rights;

  • The Community, leaders and various stakeholders have vehemently opposed the re-routing of the LAPSSET corridor to avoid monumental loss and possible land conflict;

  • There has been no public sensitization and engagement, which explains why most members of the community are still not aware about the projects. In fact, some people knew about it through newspapers. To date, some leaders do not know the exact layout of the project in our county. They are only hearing rumours about this project;

  • The community will reach out to all regional pastoralists groups such as Tana River, Isiolo and Marsabit bloc and Pastoralists Parliamentary groups for support;

  • The local communities in Isiolo County have a right to know where the LAPSSET corridor projects pass, who will be affected and how they would be compensated in good time to avoid situations where they would be forcefully evicted without prior arrangements on where to go;

  • The community shall lobby, mobilize and marshal resources to pursue immediate implementation of Justice Lenaola’s ruling on the boundary issue between Isiolo and Meru; and

  • The community should demand for their rights through their local leaders and public forums. They should hold peaceful (picketing) demonstrations where and when dialogue fails to yield positive results.

Devoid of any of the above, we are left with no any other option but our slogan shall remain; NO JUSTICE FOR ISIOLO COMMUNITY, NO LAPSSET!!!!!!!


About Whispers from the North

Whispers from the North is an online platform that appreciates the ecological, cultural and socio-economic diversities of Northern Kenya. We also acknowledge that the lives of the communities of northern Kenya has been shaped by a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors which have led to complex challenge that calls for a multifaceted approach.

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  1. Just read your piece of art. Am completely bereft of words. I can’t rate this but could only envy. Am completely mesmerized by your ability to write such an article factually, with accuracy, sublime precision and empirical consistency. You have set a precedent for us the paralegals on how to blend legal and historical evidences while giving a narrative to a select committee mandated to look into an inquiry. The command of the language is just a show of class, magnificent and top class. Bravo Atha Salad

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