Kenya: A tale of love, death and battle for Kuki Gallmann’s 100,000-acre ranch in Laikipia


On April 12, 1980, famous writer and environmentalist Kuki Gallmann placed a tiny acknowledgment in the classifieds section of this article after the death of her magnate husband, Paolo Gallmann.

A short-lived love affair that started from a hospital bed in Venice, Italy, ended in Laikipia, where the couple had purchased the now struggling Laikipia Nature Conservancy, where police tries to keep gunmen and “illegal ranchers” at bay.

Ol Ari Nyiro, as this ranch is called, was a heartache escape – and it looks like it could end in tears.

The story begins at the end of the 1960s in Italy, on the banks of the Sile river. A new fish restaurant had opened and one evening Kuki, 20, divorced, decided to join her childhood neighbors Carletto Ancilotto and his wife Chiara for dinner – and later to dance. They had also chosen another couple Paolo Gallmann and his wife, Mariangela.

Kuki looked at Paolo. “It was impossible to ignore Paolo. He gave off energy; his aura of intense alertness and awareness was extremely appealing,” Kuki would later say in his book, I Dreamed of Africa.

At only 19 years old, Kuki had dropped out of college and married Mario, half Sicilian, half Piedmontese. “My father (…) was strongly opposed to our marriage because he felt that it could not last”, she recalls.

The test of time

Her father was right: “Our marriage lasted a little over two years. My inexperience and love for Mario couldn’t mask my hunch that our relationship couldn’t stand the test of time, and I felt that the pain of an early separation was better than the inevitable bitterness of would bring years of lost youth. “

That evening, a farmer and actor from Naivasha, Dorian Rocco, whose family had built the Sirocco house on the shores of Lake Naivasha, had arrived and borrowed Paolo’s car.

“The food was great and our spirits were high. After that, we parted ways and changed vehicles, as Carletto and Chiara had decided to go home and we all wanted to go dancing.”

And that’s when the car accident happened. Paolo’s wife, Mariangela, has died. Paolo suffered from a broken jaw and ribs. Kuki had multiple fractures and for eight months she lay in her hospital bed, Paolo making countless trips to see her. As she later wrote, “his presence illuminated the hospital room with a golden light.”

Paolo’s tales of Kenya’s wilderness – the virgin land teeming with wild animals, “wild horizons and red sunsets” – delighted Kuki.

She dreamed of Africa; a faraway place where the two could escape. “You have to get better. You have to walk again. Then I’ll show you Kenya,” Paolo told him.

It was February 1970 when she was flown to Kenya while still in a wheelchair and it took her three years to walk again.

Read: Illegal shepherds injure ranch officer Kuki Gallmann

It was Kuki who suggested to her new husband to move from Venice to Kenya where he wanted to lead our cattle ranch. He had a doctorate in agriculture. So, in 1972, Kuki, Paolo and his young son Emanuele moved to Kenya.

In Nairobi, they bought Gigiri a house and a four-wheel drive car to help them find the farm they wanted. In one of their getaways – and they had a lot of them – they decided to visit Laikipia where an Italian widow, Antonietta Buonajuti still ran her Colobus Ranch, which she then sold to Laikipia West Land Buying Company which was run by GG Kariuki, then deputy minister of the government of Jomo Kenyatta.

Colobus Ranch adjoined Ol Ari Nyiro, a ranch owned by absent owners and run by Colin Francombe, whose father took Queen Elizabeth from Nairobi after her father died.

Colon white

On the east side was Gilbert Colvile’s Ol Morani ranch, which was later sold to Laikipia West Land Buying Company and was the scene of recent skirmishes. He also owned Lariak, which covered 160,000 acres.

In fact, before Kuki Gallmann moved here, Gilbert was Laikipia’s best-known white settler. He also owned 30,000 acres in Ndabibi, Naivasha, and who was described in the book White Mischief as “a clumsy little man, without a chin, … a miser and a hermit, who lived in relative misery with his many dogs, and whose house smelled sour of Masai boma wood smoke. “

Something else about this neighbor was that he loved Maasai snuff, spoke the language, and had more Maasai cattle than anyone in Kenya.

After Lord Eroll was shot, Colvile bought his house near Lake Naivasha and gave it to Diana Delves-Broughton and later married her. Diana would later divorce Colvile to marry Lord Delamere, but upon Colvile’s death he left all of his ranches to Diana.

These were the herders of Laikipia and who had taken over the land cleared from the Maasai and other pastoral tribes as part of the White Highlands.

After several guest visits from Francombe to Laikipia, the Gallmanns fell in love with the 400 square kilometer ranch.

Read: A gun used in the shooting of environmentalist Kuki Gallmann has been found

It was a lush place with “the untouched cedar forest of Enghelesha,” the “steep and dramatic cliffs of the breathtaking Mukutan Gorge” and “blue hills and acacia groves; an open savannah dotted with trees; endless views of craters and volcanoes turned purple and pink. by the heat and the distance … with sparkling Lake Baringo with all of its islands 3,000 feet below. “

They bought the ranch and stocked it with thousands of Dorper sheep and Boran cattle – and built a permanent home. It was also the place where they hunted wildlife for fun.

They bought a plane and built an airstrip.

On March 19, 1980, Paolo was driving to Mombasa to buy a crib carved from a mango tree in the shape of a canoe. “At the time, I wasn’t even pregnant,” Kuki wrote. And then it happened. “A truck … suddenly crossed its lane at the gas station in front of Hunter’s Lodge … Paolo was dead.”

Three years later, his 17-year-old son Emanuele was bitten by a puff viper from which he was trying to extract the venom.

After Paolo’s death, Kuki, as she is affectionately known, found herself managing one of Kenya’s largest ranches, the 98,000-acre Ol Ari Nyiro. It was dangerous territory.

Without it, it would be a poachers’ paradise. It was also a territory considered by the Pokots as their ancestral land. On page 143 of her book, she says: “The Pokot … had known Ol Ari Nyiro from time immemorial, for it was once their territory where they raised cattle and goats.

Ol Ari Nyiro means place of springs and it tells you how important it is to pastoralists and herders, especially during the dry season.

At the end of the 1970s, Kuki noticed that poaching had taken on a new dimension here: “Somali gangs had infiltrated the Pokot, and provided a market for ivory and rhino horn. The price they offered for a horn represented over a year of income and was a temptation. the Pokot people could not resist. “

There was also pressure, over the years, to sell this place or leave.

Wildlife heritage

But Kuki decided to stay and for a reason. “To go away would mean relinquishing that responsibility and declaring defeat.” She wrote in her book. “I had found Ol Ari Nyiro teeming with wild animals. I wanted to protect him, even though theoretically it wasn’t my job and no one expected me to. I wanted to protect him because of Paolo. , because of Emanuele and because of mine. self-respect. “

The destruction of the Colvile ranch and its wildlife heritage troubled her. “All around us I could see what would happen if I let go. On the other side of the hill of Enghelesha, the Colobus farm was cut into small shambas where the fauna had no place.

This was in reference to the lands of Laikipia West Farmers – where GG Kariuki settled thousands of people when he was in the Ministry of Lands and Settlement. The land borders Ol Ari Nyiro.

“The idea of ​​selling this beauty for money didn’t just strike me as ugly and needlessly greedy. It would be an act of cowardice … This landscape was there long before we came. It would still be there after I left. . Not only did I not have the right to spoil it, but I had to be actively involved in protecting it… that was my legacy. “

In April 2017, Kuki Gallmann found himself face to face with his enemies. They shot at his car and two bullets pierced his abdomen. She survived.

This was followed by a raid on the ranch, now turned into a reserve, where dozens of elephants were slaughtered and some properties were vandalized.

The last such skirmishes took place during the election period and Kuki had told a British publication that they were not bandits.

This year, Kuki’s Laikipia Nature Conservancy became the scene of recent skirmishes in Laikipia as armed gangs invaded the country where she was burying her son and husband.

Already, the land has been declared a troubled zone and a curfew imposed on the 100,000-acre farm – one of the largest single-block ranches in the country.

Local politicians have been pushing for the government to take over conservation and it looks like Kuki’s conservation salivation won’t end soon.

Today, his dream of Africa is turning into a nightmare. She wants this piece of Africa to be preserved. Here she became a famous writer and her book, I Dreamed of Africa, was turned into a Hollywood movie and the book sold millions of copies.

But who wants Kuki out of Laikipia?


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