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Samburu Testimonial Series No 3 - The Elders.

Leisan Lesengei, Morri Lereete and Tiyon Lekoluaa are Elders of their community reflecting on the terrible sense of injustice created by these evictiions.

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 third 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.

Leisan Lesengei, one of the strong elders among the community, suffered greatly during the evictions. He lost many of his animals, one of his daughters was raped and his family have been left with nothing. 

Morri Lereete, an elder and father of 20, was saddened to have no place other than the floor of the court room to sit and talk and lives in hope of returning to his land so he can be a ‘human being again’. 

Tiyon Lekoluaa’s parents were both from Laikipia. He came to Eland Downs with his father when he was young and he married there and his children were born there. An elder now, the land is the only home he has known. 

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Leisan Lesengei: Thank you. It is a long time since I came to this land. During the drought, when the government issued the yellow maize, I came there. I was a young man, a very strong man. Since I came there I have married twice. You can see me now. Now I am old, and like this I have been chased out of my land. I am so happy because I look around and see that I have so many friends from elsewhere coming to support my plight.  

This land means a lot to me. That is where I live. Where you live is the place that is attached to you. I have my children, my animals, my grazing. Water. All this I get from my land. I am a married man, but now that I am an old man I have so many problems. As a result of the eviction I have suffered a lot. My wives do not have manyattas – they have not even anywhere to give birth – they give birth under the trees. They don’t have many animals. Some were taken, some were chased away and eaten by wild animals. I am not settled. Where I am now I am not settled. 

One day I lost 100 goats. The government took 100 goats in just one day. That day, when I lost my animals, one of my daughters was raped. I reported it. Among the problems we have now is this: some of the husbands have abandoned their wives because of the allegations of rape. Now their husbands will not go to them. They fear that the women will have disease. I don’t want to say more about that.

It is the soldiers who are doing this. Of course, there are other people who are taking away our land. They use the soldiers to do this. Those people who are taking our land they say that they are taking our land so that they can look after the wild animals because you, you can’t do it.

These people, their link is Ol Pajeta. But it could be Moi on one side and other people. But they are using Ol Pajeta conservancy and the soldiers to give us all these problems. How can it be that animals are given better care and attention than human beings? No, we never kill those animals. We live with those animals.

I say to them: Leave our land! This land is where we have our children, where we keep our animals. We have nowhere else to do.  And if there is a way that you can talk to them to keep them off our land, please talk to them. 

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Morri Lereete: I am an old man, some of my sons are almost his age [pointing to Richard], when I came there I had only one child. Now I have 20 children, four wives. I was looking for good grazing land, I’d heard that the land there was good grazing. So slowly I came there.

When I arrived, there was an open space, good grazing space and I lived there. A group of us came, several groups all came together there and made a community. There were some Turkanas there burning charcoal but we were all Samburu. 

Since the time that I came there, I have lived there, until the evictions. It was the government that evicted us. I say to them: leave us. We have suffered a lot. We have lost lives, we have lost animals. Since we have been thrown out we have been treated like we are not human beings. We want to be like human beings again.  I don’t feel like a human being because, for my children I have nothing to give them, no school to take them to, no water. Nothing. I am just left there. Nobody has bothered to take care of us.

What human beings need in life – I don’t get. The only thing I have is what I can get from my animals. I lost so many, so many of them. I am left with very few. Some were rounded up and taken, some – when the helicopters were circling – they were scared away and lost to wild animals. I cannot mention about what happened, the rapes. Some women miscarried because of the scare of the eviction. There were children who were scared off and got lost and eaten by wild animals. And I am helpless – there is nowhere I can report this. There should be somewhere I can report this. So now I am a desperate man. 

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Tiyon Lekoluaa: [The community manager from Ol Pajeta – a neighbouring ranch] came to the community and told us that ‘we are giving this land now to some other organisations that are going to help you building schools, hospitals, conserving wildlife, improving your lives.’ So they called us for the first meeting.  

When we went for that first meeting and we asked him what he was going to do for the community, what we realised was that what he was saying were lies. And we decided that we would not agree with that new arrangement of taking over the land and building schools. So he told us, ‘so, you are refusing what I was telling you.  We will move you out by force.’ 

So they went back and they involved the DC [District Commissioner] and the police and the [neighbouring ranch’s] management and then one day we woke up and they burned all our houses, livestock were taken, some were driven off the land with the animals going one direction and the herders going another direction, women were raped, some children were burnt.

This land is the only place I know. This is where I grew up.  No one has disturbed us there all this time. This is where I keep my animals. Until now, until this sudden eviction, which I do not understand, this is my only land, the only place I know. I don’t want any money. This land is my home. I cannot get another home. Where would I go?  First, this place is where I grew up. It is good for the animals – for the goats and the sheep. This is the only life I know and there is no better place for this life. There is water there. There is plenty of grass. There are no mosquitos. It is warm and healthy for elderly people and children. It is a central point for marketing the animals we can go to either market from that place.

Outside Kisargei it is a life of misery. There is no hope. There’s no clean water like we had in Kisargei. Where we are staying is not our land. We can use the land but we could be kicked out any time. So there is no hope there.

The elders who were killed there – we grew up together. They were taken from their manyattas and shot. It is really painful. So our only hope is that we can get back our land and continue living.

If there is any way, we want our land back. We just want back our land. We are helpless. If our land is lost, life will be a misery for us. We don’t have any way to fight – we have no means. It will be a miserable life. All we can do is pray.

Interviews 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: These interviews have been edited for purposes of brevity and clarity.

More information on the Samburu evictions at: