Kenya based ‘Diamonds of War’ producer fearing for his life

An international film producer fears for his life after armed people raided his conservancy in Naivasha and injured the head of security.

At least 50 men armed with crude weapons raided the 630-acre Hippo Point conservancy belonging to Dominic Cunningham on Monday.

Mr Cunningham is the producer of two acclaimed films for National Geographic – ‘Diamonds of War,’ on the blood diamond trade in Sierra Leone and ‘The War Next Door,’ on the drug war in Colombia.

He was also cinematographer on Discovery’s NYPD – Life on the Street”- a film about New York detectives – and on Oprah Winfrey “Christmas Kindness” – an inspiring film about her journey to adopt thousands of orphaned children from South Africa.

Speaking to The Standard at the conservancy, Cunningham said the group was fishing along Lake Nakuru but intruded on the private property, and when turned away by the security team they became aggressive.

They left the site but came back around 8.30am, demanding to see the head of security team Bernard Ochieng, accusing him of being arrogant.

The armed group confiscated cell phones of two security personnel before they injured Mr Ochieng with crude weapons and attempted to drown him in the lake.

“Our security team was conducting normal patrols at the conservancy when a group of youth armed with pangas, arrows and knives attacked and injured one of them,” said Cunningham.

The conservationist, his wife Casilda Uriarte and their son fled their home within the conservancy for safety. They informed Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), police and fisheries department, who responded immediately.

Avoid legal pathway

“We tried to speak to the intruders but they couldn’t listen. They combed the property looking for the head of security. This forced us to leave,” he said.

The incident was reported at Kongoni Police Station under Occurrence Book (OB) number 08/18/05/2020. Ochieng could not speak to The Standard because he was in pain. He had injuries on the face, eye and arms.

He was rushed to Donyo Health Care Hospital in Naivasha, where he is undergoing treatment. Cunningham fears that the intruders might also be a threat to wildlife at the conservancy, an issue that may affect tourism.

According to the filmmaker, the invasion of the conservancy has been on the rise in March, April and May, following swelling of the lake, coupled with economic impact of Covid-19.

Initially, the lake was at least 250 metres away from the conservancy, but the waters have risen to the property.

“My family do not feel safe because we have increased numbers of fishermen at the shores of the lake. We are therefore not able to know if they are licensed or not. What if they poach animals,” he posed.

Lake Naivasha and Lake Oloiden have merged, a phenomenon that forces fishermen to intrude the private conservancy.

Cunningham fears that insecurity along the lake may drive investors out of the country. He urged respective government agencies including fisheries, police and KWS to come up with a policy on fish governance and boundary to secure investments.

“Issue of boundary should clearly be stipulated to avoid conflict. When you lose sovereignty of the land, investment will be affected. This, therefore, needs a quick solution,” he said.

County Director of Fisheries Mathew Ngila admitted that illegal fishermen avoid the legal pathway to the lake and pass through private property.

Mr Ngila said officers from fisheries department are conducting regular surveillance at the lake to prevent fishermen from intruding private property. “There is rise in conflict reported along the lake. Some of the fishermen are not licensed with some armed that may too threaten wildlife,” he said.

Rift Valley police commander Marcus Ocholla said police have launched investigations into invasion of the conservancy. He suspects that locals who lost employment more so from flower farms are now engaging in fishing.

“It is true the number of people fishing along the lake is overwhelming. We therefore need proper structures to prevent them from intruding into private territories,” he said.

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