Climate change and the lingering effects of colonization spark violence in a region of Kenya in this documentary
The question at the crux of The Battle for Laikipia, the new documentary from directors Daphne Matziaraki and Pete Murumi, is who land in a much desired area of Kenya really belongs to. Wealthy white owners of a conservancy and cattle ranch in the Kenyan region of Laikipia are contrasted with members of the Indigenous, pastoralist Samburu community. In non-drought years, the migratory cattle herds are allowed onto private land to share the grass. But the area has been in drought for a year, and the settlers are hiring security on their land to keep the Indigenous groups out.
The folks of European descent own land through colonization and generational wealth. And now ancient migration routes generations of Samburu have used are closed to them. The Kenyan government seems to side with the wealthy ranchers.
Through an engaging storytelling structure which includes voices of the Samburu as well as the white settlers, The Battle for Laikipia holds the viewer’s attention. The landscape cinematography is gorgeous; the action scenes are equally well-shot, especially once the fighting between haves and have nots becomes more frequent. It’s disturbing to note the inequality of the situations, especially when it’s two years into a drought and a conservancy still has an infinity pool full of water for tourists. There seems little outside support for the Samburu and their disappearing way of life, where cattle are so vital to their culture.
Along with the violence between the humans, maimed and dead animals are shown as an example of the damage being done. I wasn’t mentally prepared for the instructions from white settlers to their security teams or the police to kill dogs and cows. The unacknowledged privilege on display is chilling, as more value is placed on land and property than on the livelihood of their neighbors.
The Battle for Laikipia, while not asking the audience to pick a side, does want the audience to consider the issues affecting this region. Is there a cooperative way forward? How might even higher temperatures and further drought impact these diverse groups of Kenyans in future? The film leaves the viewer unsettled, with more questions than answers.
The Battle for Laikipia screened as part of the World Documentary Competition at Sundance.