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Samburu Testimonial Series No 2 - Esther Lekuchula

Esther's house was burned down in the first eviction and she has a message for AWF

The Samburu of Kisargei, in Kenya’s Laikipia district, were brutally evicted from the lands they call home after the land was sold to the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF). AWF – with funds from The Nature Conservancy (TNC) – says it bought the land on the understanding that no-one lived there. When the Samburu protested and took the matter to the courts the land was hurriedly ‘gifted’ to the government. This is the second in a series of text and video based testimonials produced by Jo Woodman of Survival International, Zoe Young - freelance film maker and Nicholas Winer of Just Conservation.

Esther Lekuchula has lived in Kisargei (Eland Downs) since 1984 – two of her four children were born there, and both her daughters were married there. It is, simply, home. Her community has been left stranded on the edge of the land waiting the outcome of a slow-moving case in which they are pitted against the conservation charities, the government and the former president, Daniel arap Moi, who owned the land. At one hearing we interviewed members of the community who had travelled to the court in the hope of justice and the ability to return to their home. Those we[1] interviewed were devastated at the loss of their land, traumatised by the violence of the evictions and deeply concerned for their - and their children’s - future

We came to Eland Downs from Samburu [District] at the time that they were giving the Yellow Maize [during a famine]. We stayed there without interference until we were evicted. Life was good. At that place there were no diseases. We had water. Grazing was good. We really lived well until the eviction.

In 1984 when we were coming, before we came to the land, across the River, I gave birth to Ryeli and then I had two more children, Sylvana and Sati – they were born on the land. All are married now.  A forth child was born outside the land when we had to move out for a time because of the drought. [2000] When it rained we brought the child with us back to Eland Downs. One girl that was born there, she was married there, she has an identity card from that place.  

I love that place so much. It is a warm place, free of diseases, there’s no interference with the grazing, it is a plain place. I love it there.

We moved from corner to corner in that place. Depending on the rain we moved from corner to corner for the grazing.

When we first came, there were charcoal burners there, we would sometimes find them when we moved our animals. We would go, graze our animals and see them burning their charcoal there. After some time we chased them away – we did not like their burning charcoal so we chased them away. The only reason that you can find any trees there is because we chased those charcoal burners away. They all left and that is why there is some forest there.

The first eviction … they burned our manyattas. We ran into the bush and stayed there all the day with the animals and the children. At night, we came back again to see. We made shelters with ‘bulletin papers’ – just paper houses for some shelter. In the morning we again ran away to the bush to hide and see if anyone will come back again to look for us.

I don’t understand who sent the soldiers – a large number of soldiers were sent. We don’t know but we suspect that the community manager at Ol Pajeta is behind it and the DC [District Commissioner of Laikipia District] and also the police. They were in uniforms. [Why did they move you out?] They are interested in that land.

Some came by air. The first time there were two helicopters – a blue one and a white one. And then there was a big number of them that came in trucks. Two groups came – one by air and one in the trucks. There were so many. We were so scared. All the good animals – they were getting them out of there and taking them away. They were beating people, burning our houses. All the elders, anyone they found they beat: girls, women, moran, everyone. We were all running away to the bushes.   

We have suffered from that time. We still have problems because where we have gone when we were moved out we don’t have firewood, good grazing, we don’t have water. The problems that we have are so many, but I want to name just some: we have no school, no hospital and no water – those are the biggest problems.

Please pass a message to everyone, anyone – take a message to the government of Kenya.

Ask them: why are you punishing me? All of these problems are to do with you. What do you want me to do?

[To those responsible for moving us out:] You! You must give us back our land because you know that it is ours. That word, Kisargei, that comes from our grand grand grand parents – that land belongs to us, and you have no claim over it. That place you are claiming, it is mine, so why do you want us to go? Give us back the soil of Kisargei.  

The only thing to say is to give us back that land. That land is good for my children. All my daughters were married in that place. My sons were circumcised there and are living there with their families – they have no other place to go that is their home.

Interview conducted by Jo Woodman


[1] A team from Survival International and the Centre for International Human Rights Law and Advocacy attended the March 2012 hearing.

Note: This interview has been edited for purposes of brevity and clarity.

More information on the Samburu evictions at: