LAIKIPIA, Kenya – Burned-out homes in this dry landscape have become a symbol of the tensions around Tuesday’s presidential election as Kenyans prepare for the possibility of yet more deadly violence.
For more than a year now, farms and homes in Laikipia County have been under siege.
Farmer Martin Evans inspects one blackened home, the result of an invasion by semi-nomadic herders who say a widespread drought is making them desperate to find grazing land for their animals.
The severe drought affects half of Kenya’s 47 counties and has been declared a national disaster. Watering holes and rivers are running dry. Crops are failing and livestock are dying, causing prices of some staple foods to jump by more than 30 percent.
“We don’t stay long, we steal and run home,” said one herder, Gimaru. Other herders refuse to leave, claiming rights to land their ancestors occupied before British colonial rule.
But many farmers say they believe the land invasions are politically motivated. They say some politicians are inciting the hundreds of herders to invade and displace thousands of farmers, both black and white, changing voter demographics to help win local elections.
In late July, Mathew Lempurkel, a member of parliament from Laikipia, was charged in a Nairobi court with inciting his constituents to violence and racial contempt. He is accused of making comments supporting the forceful eviction of white landowners if Kenya’s top opposition leader Raila Odinga wins the presidential election. Lempurkel has denied the charges.
The race between Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta has narrowed, with one poll in the past week putting Odinga ahead by just 1 percentage point. As tensions rise, some observers are warning of violence and recalling…