Kuki Gallmann, the Italian-born liberal conservationist and author, is being treated for a gunshot wound at a Nairobi hospital after being attacked by herders at her ranch in Kenya.
The daughter of Italian climber and writer Cino Boccazzi, in 1972 she moved to Kenya with her husband Paolo and son Emanuele. They acquired Ol ari Nyiro, a 98,000 acre cattle ranch in Western Laikipia, in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley which she would later transform into a conservation park. Both her husband and son died in accidents within a few years.
Kuki decided to stay in Kenya and to work toward ecological conservation in the early ’80s, becoming a Kenyan citizen. As a living memorial to Paolo and Emanuele, she established the Gallmann Memorial Foundation (GMF), which promotes coexistence of people and nature in Africa and is active in education, biodiversity research, habitat protection, reforestation, community service, peace and reconciliation, poverty alleviation and public health. GMF promotes environmental education of Kenyan students. She dedicated Ol ari Nyiro to this ideal, converting it into the Laikipia Nature Conservancy.
Gallmann published five books, all global best-sellers. The first, her autobiography I Dreamed Of Africa, became a feature film which starred Kim Basinger.
Gallmann was patrolling the property when she was shot in the stomach by herders who invaded her ranch in search of pasture to save their animals from drought, local police chief Ezekiel Chepkowny told the Associated Press.
Her driver also survived the attack and drove her to the airport in Laikipia, where she was airlifted to the capital, Nairobi, for further treatment, Chepkowny said.
Richard Constant, the deputy chairman of the Laikipia Farmers Association, said suspicion falls on herders from the Pokot community who have invaded Gallmann’s ranch several times. Lodges belonging to Gallmann were burned by the herders last month.
This East African nation is facing a drought that has affected half the country and has been declared a national disaster.
Herders and large-scale farmers in parts of Kenya’s Rift Valley have been desperately waiting for seasonal rains that were to start last month to ease the drought and conflicts over grazing land in which more than 30 people have died.
Kenya’s military and police have been working to disarm and drive the hundreds of herders and their animals out of ranches they’ve invaded, but their actions appear to have escalated the violence. The Laikipia Farmers Association says when the military and police drive herders from one ranch they move into another.
The association’s deputy chairman has accused politicians campaigning for the August elections of inciting the herders to invade the ranches, saying the owners’ leases have come to an end and that herders can take over the land and distribute it among themselves.
“The LFA is conscious that a small handful of inciters are driving this violence and that they have deployed militias to cause mayhem in parts of Laikipia. For months these criminals have been rampaging around with their illegal weapons, destroying lives and livelihood,” Laikipia Farmers Association chairman Martin Evans said.
The land invasions started late last year. British national and ranch owner Tristan Voorspuy was killed last month when he went to inspect damage done by the herders on one of his lodges.
Opposition leader and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga said ranch owners deserve protection under the law like all Kenyans.
“Unfortunately, we have watched in bewilderment as hooligans take advantage of the drought to subject these ranchers to unwarranted attacks,” Odinga said. “Even more depressing is the apparent helplessness of the government that is clearly unable or unwilling to bring these attacks to a stop.”
Many of the ranches, some of which double as wildlife conservancies, were acquired during the period of British colonial rule, some as early as 1900, according to a government report. Others were purchased after Kenya became independent in 1963.