For Nkabanni Nkirandu, a Kenyan livestock farmer, life may never be the same again. Last month, he lost his entire herd to Tanzanian authorities who auctioned his cattle for grazing in the neighbouring country.
Nkirandu now has just four calves that were left behind in his Oloitokitok home in Kajiado County, southeast of Nairobi.
“I moved my cows to Tanzania when the prolonged drought hit us hard. We have been doing this for a long time, as our brothers from there are accommodated in our pastures when they face a similar issue. Without notice, my animals were seized and my brother arrested and detained in Mwanga district, Kilimanjaro Region. We were fined $7,480, but when I went to pay the fine, they said that they no longer wanted it and our animals will be subsequently sold,” Mr Nkirandu said.
When the authorities refused to accept the fine, they detained Mr Nkirandu’s brother instead.
The auctioning of the livestock has stirred anger in Oloitokitok, which borders Tanzania.
On October 20, Maripelanto Auctioneers issued a notice intending to sell 1,115 head of cattle seized from 22 Kenyan herders on instructions from the Mwanga District Court. In the notice, the buyers were required to pay market fees and they would receive a transport permit from the veterinary officer who would also take part in the auction.
Another herder, Korduni ole Matui, spent two weeks in custody, having been arrested for being in Tanzania without the required immigration documents. He was among a second group of five herders who included the owner of the cows and three elders; they had entered Tanzania to try to intervene in the case.
“We only crossed the border because of the drought and in search of good pastures for our animals. Ironically, I had my passport and even my lorry had the requisite documents. This however didn’t stop them from arresting and detaining me. I read geopolitics into this matter and I am now left a pauper after hundreds of my cows were also seized and sold,” he said.
The Kenyan herders had sought the government’s help to secure the release of their animals before the auction, but this failed as the Tanzanian authorities remained adamant.
“When we went to secure the release of the herders, we were met with a lot of hostility. I remember the cows were under armed guard and the auction happened when the herders were still detained with little access by their families. We tried various diplomatic means through our Dar es Salaam High Commission and the Foreign Affairs Ministry with our counterparts to see that these cows were released to these herders, but in vain,” Abdirisack Jaldessa, the deputy county commissioner for Kajiado said, adding that when they went to court in Moshi, the auctioneers were already present and ready to execute the sale.
According to Kilimanjaro Regional Commissioner Anna Mghwira, the auction followed the law after the herders failed to raise the required fine imposed on them.
“The cattle were auctioned after all procedures were completed and the funds received from the auction entered the government’s coffers, while the Mwanga district council earned its sales tax. We did the nationalisation of these animals as a strong warning to these herders to respect our laws,” Ms Mghwira said.
Kenya is also trying to ensure tensions between the neighbouring Maasai communities do not boil over.
The herders along Kenya’s border with Tanzania now want the government to show a much firmer hand even as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs calls for dialogue with Tanzania to resolve cross-border issues between the two countries.
David Kipkemei, the deputy country commissioner in Isinya, a town in Kajiado County, said Tanzania’s move was inhuman because pastoralists all over the continent cross borders in search of pasture for their animals.
“The Maasai communities across the border have always been very accommodating and know how to assist one another when it comes to drought,” Mr Kipkemei said.
Kajiado deputy governor Martin Moshisho urged the Kenyan government to reach out to Tanzania’s highest leadership to resolve the stalemate that is threatening to divide the border communities.
“We view this as a hostile act meant to economically sabotage Kenyans, and we hope the government will communicate our strong displeasure to Tanzania,” Mr Moshisho said.