Tribal warriors shot dead a former Guards officer on his ranch in Kenya yesterday as a campaign of land invasions in the country’s white-farming heartlands claimed its most prominent victim to date.
Tristan Voorspuy was killed after he rode his horse into an ambush on Sosian, a 24,000 acre ranch in the country’s Laikipia region that was occupied by armed warriors and their cattle last month.
He was 60. Mr Voorspuy’s death, the first of a white farmer since the invasions began last year, represents a major escalation in an offensive that many white farmers believe represents a politically motivated land grab in one of the country’s most important conservation areas.
Neighbours said that Mr Voorspuy, one of Sosian’s co-owners, had ridden out to inspect an area on the ranch where invaders had burned down three houses last week.
“Apparently he took it upon himself to get on a horse to check on one of the remaining houses that had not been burned down,” a white rancher from a nearby farm said.
“But he was ambushed and shot dead.” After Mr Voorspuy, who was regarded as one of Kenya’s finest horsemen, failed to return, a white farmer from a neighbouring ranch flew over the area and spotted the victim’s horse, which had been badly injured.
A tracker later found and identified Mr Voorspuy’s body but it has yet to be retrieved because the area is still patrolled by large gangs of armed warriors from Kenya’s Samburu and Pokot ethnic groups.
Sosian is one of a number of large ranches, many of which also double as highly successful wildlife conservancies, to have been seized in recent months.
Ostensibly, the invasions were triggered by a drought that forced Samburu and Pokot herdsmen to abandon denuded pasture to the north and east of Laikipia and drive their cattle onto the region’s carefully-husbanded ranches.
But although drought-related invasions in the area are not uncommon, few have been so violent.
As many as 20 black Kenyans have been killed, among them workers on white-owned farms. Some white ranchers have also been shot at and one black rancher was shot and wounded last year.
Wildlife, including elephants, have also been killed.
Opposition politicians and many farm owners claim that the invasions are being orchestrated by local politicians who are using the cover of a general election in August to stir up ethnic violence in order to drive ranch owners outside the area.
The government’s response has been muted, although two small police operations have been mounted against the invaders in the past month, including one last week on Sosian. Both failed.
“The police went on to drive the herders out and had the bejesus put up them and they turned tail and ran,” a white rancher said.
Shortly before Mr Voorspuy’s death, Kenya’s police chief, Jospeh Boinett flew over Sosian in a helicopter and reportedly came under fire. Mr Boinett denied the claim.
Mr Voorspuy, who is survived by his wife Lucinda and two grown-up children, bought Sosian ranch with six other shareholders in 2005 and is credited with turning land that had been badly degraded into a successful wildlife conservation project.
Known as an engaging raconteur and intrepid riding safari guide, Mr Voorspuy was a central figure in white Kenyan society.
He served in the British army for six years in the seventies before serving a two-year commission with the Household Guards.
He lived at Deloraine, perhaps the country’s best-known colonial farm house. Built by Lord Francis Scott, the uncle of Princess Alice, Duchess of Gloucester, Deloraine played host to both the Queen Mother and the Duchess of York in its time.