Nairobi (AFP) – Italian-born conservationist and writer Kuki Gallmann was shot and seriously wounded Sunday while patrolling her conservation park in central Kenya, a region plagued by violence linked to a drought.
The 73-year-old, whose best-selling autobiography “I Dreamed of Africa” was made into a film with Kim Basinger playing Gallmann, was “shot in the stomach during an attack” by three men on the sprawling Laikipia Nature Conservancy, a senior police officer said.
Gallmann was airlifted to Nairobi by military helicopter, the officer said, adding that the attackers appeared to be raiders from the Pokot ethnic group which is spread across Kenya and eastern Uganda.
Violence has peaked in Kenya’s Rift Valley in recent weeks following tensions and clashes involving semi-nomadic cattle herders following the drought. At least 30 people have died since December.
Local police chief Ezekiel Chepkwony said Gallmann was patrolling her property on Sunday morning “when herders opened fire on her”, adding that her driver escaped the attack unhurt.
Police later engaged the attackers in a shootout, but did not manage to arrest them.
“We are tracking them and have intensified security,” Chepkwony said.
The Laikipia Farmers’ Association (LFA) said she was inspecting tourist lodges on the reserve that had been hit by arson attacks the night before.
A guard at Gallmann’s compound said the herders had tried to enter the property after the attack.
Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta condemned the attack in a statement, warning politicians in the area “not to inflame temperatures through reckless rhetoric”.
In the Laikipia region, thousands of herders — some armed with spears and automatic weapons — have illegally entered private ranches and reserves in search of pastures for their cows, sheep and goats.
Some attribute the growing tensions to drought while others say they are a result of racially charged language used by some politicians ahead of a general election due in August.
A British farmer was killed on March 6 while inspecting the damage caused by herders on his ranch.
Gallmann’s property was also attacked in March, when raiders looted and torched luxury tourist lodges — which were unoccupied at the time.
That attack was carried out by herders who accused security forces of killing livestock in the reserve, according to local media.
Martin Evans, chairman of the LFA, condemned what he called “a vicious assault against an elderly and defenceless woman”.
He said “a small handful of inciters” were driving the violence in the region.
Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga, a former prime minister, also condemned the attack, accusing “hooligans” of using the drought as an excuse to “subject these ranchers to unwarranted attacks”.