Sundance 2024 Review: THE BATTLE FOR LAIKIPIA Dissects Impact of Colonialism and Climate Change on Land Disputes in Kenya

“The Battle for Laikipia” is a poignant documentary on the complex legacy of colonialism in Kenya, embodied in the Laikipia region’s ongoing land disputes. Co-directed by Peter Murimi and Daphne Matziaraki, it’s a narrative that resonates deeply with broader African experiences of post-independence realities.

The documentary’s Laikipia setting becomes a microcosm for examining the contentious terrain of land rights, identity, and environmental challenges, focusing on the interactions among indigenous nomadic pastoralists, white ranch owners, and conservationists—all grappling with the impacts of climate change.

It’s a familiar story across many African countries where the vestiges of colonialism persist in the form of land ownership patterns that favor descendants of white colonizers over the local, indigenous populations.

As climate change exacerbates the region’s droughts, the pastoralists’ struggle for survival leads them to venture onto private lands, sparking tensions.

The documentary goes beyond the surface to explore the nuanced identities of white Africans born and raised in Kenya. It presents a complex picture of individuals who view Kenya as their only home, yet whose existence is marked by privilege and a contentious claim to land that was once taken from native populations.

This exploration prompts a reflection on the rights and responsibilities of these white Kenyans in a post-colonial context, questioning the legitimacy of their land ownership and their role in a society striving for equality and justice.

A particularly striking aspect of “The Battle for Laikipia” is its portrayal of the direct and violent confrontations, where both sides are locked in a cycle of aggression and reprisal, highlighting the human and cattle lives lost in these disputes.

The use of native Kenyans to protect the interests of white landowners against other Kenyans highlights the complex interplay of power, loyalty, and survival. This dynamic, which Murimi and Matziaraki capture with an empathetic lens, is emblematic of broader global struggles of indigenous peoples fighting for their rights and recognition against the backdrop of historical injustices.

The film’s exploration of the wildlife economy adds another layer to the narrative, emphasizing the environmental considerations that must be balanced against human needs and historical grievances. It underscores the broader implications of land ownership and use not just for people, but for the conservation of natural habitats and the species that rely on them.

These tensions collectively raise critical questions about the meaning of independence in a country where significant swathes of land are still controlled by a minority whose claim to the land is rooted in colonial history. It challenges viewers to consider whether true sovereignty can be achieved without addressing these deep-rooted disparities.

The filmmakers, through their intimate portrayal of Laikipia’s mosaic of shared landscapes and intertwined fates, offer a compelling narrative that invites viewers to engage in multifaceted discussions on decolonization, repatriation, and global equality.

“The Battle for Laikipia” serves as a powerful reminder of the ongoing struggles in post-colonial societies. It is not just a story of conflict over land; it is a call to action for reconciliation, understanding, and meaningful change.

“The Battle for Laikipia” is making its world premiere at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, screening as part of the World Cinema Documentary Competition.