NAIROBI, Kenya -- The Italian-born author and conservationist Kuki Gallmann was shot at her Kenyan ranch and airlifted for treatment after herders invaded in search of pasture to save their animals from drought, officials said Sunday.
Gallmann, known for her bestselling book “I Dreamed of Africa,” which became a movie by the same name starring Kim Basinger, was patrolling the ranch in Laikipia when she was shot in the stomach, local police chief Ezekiel Chepkowny said.
The 73-year-old Gallmann had been with rangers from the Kenya Wildlife Service, assessing damage done to her property Saturday by arsonists who burned down buildings at one of Laikipia Nature Conservancy’s tourism lodges, said Laikipia Farmers Association chairman Martin Evans.
After the attack, the rangers transported her to a location where she could be airlifted to Nanyuki town, Evans said. British Army medics attended to her before she was airlifted to the capital, Nairobi, where she underwent surgery, he said.
Gallmann’s condition was not known, and neither her family nor the hospital would comment.
Richard Constant, the association’s deputy chairman, 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, whose livelihoods depend on their cattle, 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. When the military and police drive herders from one ranch they move into another, the farmers’ association said.
The association 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,” 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.
Many of the farmers’ association’s members are in the tourism business, Evans said.
“Though times are very tough for those properties affected by the invasions, the extent of the troubles are restricted to parts of north and west Laikipia,” he said. “These events do not affect other parts of Kenya which remain safe to visit.”