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Some landless Kenyans were accommodated as squatters by the remaining white farmers or the new bourgeoisie. Others joined cooperative societies or limited companies that purchased large farms which were later subdivided and shared out among the various members. (Even today, some cooperatives are still in operation and are subdividing land and sharing it out to their members.) This, however, was not without flaws. The process was riddled with blunders, quick-witted recoveries and fascinating power plays — all spiced with an occasional tinge of unscrupulousness. The directors were the new bourgeoisie who could use their influence to acquire more land and give it to their political cronies.

Kenya: "The Land Is Ours"

By Timothy Gachanga (June-October 2006)

Introduction

It is unfortunate that the problem of landlessness in Kenya was not a passing phase after all. It was not a problem to be shed like the skin of a snake and then tossed away and forgotten. After forty three years of independence (achieved in 1963), landlessness continues to dominate political discourse among politicians who use it over and over again to gain popularity and power, creating a class of politicians who ultimately become masters of the double discourse of theory and practice in their in dealing with the issue. While on one side of this double discourse politicians openly condemn government failure to deal with the issue, on the other side they exacerbate the issue by giving land to their cronies in return for political support. This has made independent Kenya, especially during the Kenyatta and Moi regimes, contradict and bring shame upon what had been promised as independence for the country.

Background

The problem of landlessness in Kenya goes back to the advent of colonialism when white settlers hived off parts of the Kenyan highlands and claimed ownership. But subsequent hopes that the land would revert back to the Africans were never fully realized. In an interview with a local TV station this year during the Madaraka celebrations (Madaraka is celebrated on June 1st every year to mark the day Kenya gained independence), ex-Mau Mau veterans were still expressing disappointment over Kenyatta’s declaration that no land was free. Kenyans had to work for it. "This was a humiliating betrayal for Mau Mau. After spending years in the forest and risking our lives, we thought Kenyatta would recognize our sacrifice by rewarding us with land grants," complained an ex-Mau Mau veteran. They expressed disappointment over the absurdity of having to pay for "land that was rightly theirs". Understandably, the majority of landless people were unable to raise even the basic sum needed as a down payment for the purchase of "their land". They had no option other than to let go of the land which they regarded as their mother or the umbilical cord through which their spiritual and mental contentment was realized. It is this spiritual attachment to the land that made the Mau Mau sacrifice their lives and take arms to topple British colonialism.

Some landless Kenyans were accommodated as squatters by the remaining white farmers or the new bourgeoisie. Others joined cooperative societies or limited companies that purchased large farms which were later subdivided and shared out among the various members. (Even today, some cooperatives are still in operation and are subdividing land and sharing it out to their members.) This, however, was not without flaws. The process was riddled with blunders, quick-witted recoveries and fascinating power plays — all spiced with an occasional tinge of unscrupulousness. The directors were the new bourgeoisie who could use their influence to acquire more land and give it to their political cronies.

Later the government introduced alternative, cheaper schemes for settling the landless. In 1965, the Squatter Settlement Scheme was initiated whereby land was obtained through government expropriation and from confiscated mismanaged lands and donated lands. These schemes were marred by political interference, with politicians using the opportunity to reward their supporters. The Kenyatta and Moi regimes were notorious in this regard. They failed to recognize the fact that it is impossible for the government to resettle the landless without first possessing the land through a major nationalization programme. Even today, thousands of acres of land are still owned by former colonial settlers which they run as ranches or as wildlife conservation areas. As well, former home guards from both the Kenyatta and Moi regimes and some top NARC (National Rainbow Coalition) politicians themselves own thousands of acres that may have been acquired dubiously.

The Kenyatta and Moi regimes have also come under criticism because decisions about distribution and redistribution of land were made in offices behind closed doors. There was little listening to how people who live close to the African soil express their sense of belonging and practise their values. Because the Kenyan Government relies on land laws and policies established under the British colonial government, many disadvantaged groups are denied ownership of their ancestral lands. A good example is the Ogieks who live in the Mau Forest in Rift Valley Province.

The Ogieks

The Ogieks are a local hunting and honey-gathering people that have lived in the Mau Forest for hundreds of years. The colonial Forest Act did not recognize them as forest dwellers. Instead it regarded them as "outlaws". If you were not a forest officer, living in the forest was outlawed. The Trust Land Act (Cap 288), Forest Act (Cap 385), and Government Lands Act (Cap 280) of May 1963 do not regard the Ogieks as a forest dwelling community. Moreover, the courts are reluctant to address indigenous rights.

Efforts by consecutive governments to resettle the Ogieks were marred by the lack of clear resettlement policies and political greed. This happened in 1963 and again in 1976 when the Kenyatta government tried to resettle them. Politicians seized chunks of land for themselves and their relatives at the expense of the Ogieks. The Ogieks ended up losing the land which they claim was rightfully theirs. In the mid-1970s, the Maasai, like the Ogieks, lost huge tracts of land through the old colonial legislation when they were relocated from land that was subsequently included within Amboseli National Park, one of the continent's most famous wildlife reserves. In response, Maasai groups began systematically killing many of Amboseli's most prized tourist attractions, including dozens of leopards, elephants and rhinos. This programme of extermination was undertaken as part of a desperate protest campaign designed to counter the growing threat that tour operations posed to Maasai land rights. Although a compromise was later reached, the Maasai lost many of their traditional land rights to profitable government and environmental interests.

In 1988, the Moi Government also made an attempt to resettle the Ogieks. The government initiated a settlement scheme at Ndoinet in South and Western Mau in which the Kipsigis and the Ogieks were to be resettled. But the Ogieks refused to participate in this scheme arguing that it was their ancestral land and that they did not need to share it with the Kipsigis. The government nevertheless appeared determined to have the Kipsisgis benefit from the land.

Since 1993, the government has been carving out huge parts of the Mau Forest for settlement but the Ogieks have not benefited. Instead senior state house officials have ended up securing huge chunks of the land, and senior Rift Valley politicians have used the land to reward their supporters. Attempts by Ogiek representatives to Moi and to other officials in his government to protect them proved unsuccessful. In 1997 they went to court to stop the surveying and allocation of their land to others. Their lawsuit eventually went to the High Court, but the case was dismissed in March 2000. Judges ruled that there was "no reason why the Ogieks should be the only favoured community to own and exploit natural resources, a privilege not enjoyed or extended to other communities" (Daily Nation, May 30, 2002).


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