The last fully blown tribal clashes in this region happened in 1998 after the 1997 general election. The Laikipia Clashes pitted the Samburu’s against Kikuyus and to some extent the Abagusii.
The Laikipia Clashes had started in the previous year and escalated during the campaign period but they got out of control after Kanu won the election.
The Samburu’s were the aggressors in the eyes of many but on their part; they claimed they were fighting against historical land injustices.
What escalated the Laikipia Clashes was the Samburu’s insistence on grazing on other peoples’ land and in the process, destroying the crops. The Samburu’s were fully armed with guns and they could drive to a shamba with maize and potatoes and the cattle could feed on the crops the whole day.
One day, a daring journalist decided to risk all and walked up to where the Samburu herders were standing as their cattle grazed on an innocent farmer’s farm. The journalist asked the herders why they were destroying other people’s crops.
Their response was it not for the seriousness of the matter could have been described as comical. The response was “Ng’ombe anakula ile majani iko juu, hakuli mizizi ama viazi ile iko chini” .
The journalist tried to ask further questions but the herders glared at him while adjusting their guns and the poor journalist didn’t need to be told to walk away.
The clashes, thanks to the media of the time got the Nation’s attention and the government responded by organizing peace meetings. Before the peace meetings started, the DC of Laikipia ordered the AP and police to disarm everybody and further added that nobody should go for peace meetings while armed.
A few days later the peace meeting was held but the Samburu went to the meeting armed to the teeth. They were armed with spears, semis, and some thick sticks. In this meeting, the protagonist sat on opposite sides, each spoiling for a fight.
The DC ordered the Samburu to disarm but they refused and instead walked out of the meeting. With the Samburus gone, the DC called off the meeting and told the people who had remained to maintain peace.
The Samburu’s when they walked away didn’t go very far, they waited for the Kikuyus a kilometer away. When the Kikuyus saw the Samburus waiting for them, they instead of retreating, marched on and when they came face to face with the Samburus, the mother of all battles ensued.
The woman who witnessed the fight between the Samburus and Kikuyus described it as similar to the cowboy’s Wild West movies. This is how she described it:
As the Kikuyus men approached where the Samburu men were standing, the Samburus took positions ready for a fight. The Kikuyus did the same as incidentally, the Kikuyus had hidden their weapons a few meters from the meeting place.
Now that they had the weapons, they were ready for the battle. The war started and the men cut each other, pierced the rivals punched, kicked, and wrestled each other. The Kikuyus after about 10 minutes seemed to have the upper hand, the Samburus was being subdued.
But then it all happened, Samburus sensing defeat remembered that they had guns strapped at their backs. They by reflex went for the guns and shot 15 Kikuyus dead, the lucky Kikuyus ran to the bushes but many had gunshot wounds.
The DC with his team on hearing the guns drove to the site but it was too late. They collected the 15 dead bodies and took the injured to the hospital. The woman who narrated what happened lost her husband in the skirmish, but she was proud he died fighting like a man.
The newspaper had the following headlines the next day ‘Massacre in Laikipia’, ’15 shot dead in tribal feud’, ‘Kibaki condemns the massacre of Laikipia’. What had started as simple grazing rights dispute had now taken a political angle.
The Democratic Party led by Kibaki led the onslaught against the government and also organized the burial of the 15. At the burial, Kihika Kimani called for the arming of Kikuyu youth and pledged to be the first to contribute money for the purchase of guns.
President Moi on sensing things was getting out of control called for an end to the Laikipia clashes, and the clashes ended.