On Tuesday, old and young generations of Kiambu, grandmothers and fathers who survived colonialism, marched under Nairobiâ€™s hot sun, past Jomo Kenyattaâ€™s grave to the parliament.
The march was a remarkable step towards rewriting so called â€˜historical injusticesâ€™, demanding justice for all â€“ not for communities and judging political action for their validity and not for their ethnic origin. It might even be a step towards pressuring for long lost community ownership â€“ or at least authority â€“ over land.
Twiga Farm was once owned by a British called Malcom Bell. After independence in 1963, he- unlike many others who sold their land to the ruling elite â€“ gave it to the people who had worked for him. They divided the land among themselves, but also build a school, a dispensary and made a little town.
During elections, the farm was even allocated a voting station by the government, which in itself is an acknowledgement of the owners of the land. The first dispute arose in 2004, when the police threatened to evict Twiga farm residents. The residents took to court and the chief magistrate ruling declared the community as legal owners by right of adverse occupation.
But the thousands of acres fertile land worth billions of Kenyan Shillings (millions of dollars) soon attracted the interest of other forces. Mboi Kamiti Farmers Company, initially founded by farmers, contested the legality of ownership in court. The company already owns several farms in the area and has been entangled in a series of disputes, leadership wrangles, murder of directors, embezzlement of resources and illegal sale of land among others. Also in the case of Twiga Farm, it appears that the company had already sold pieces of the grabbed land to shareholders. To this come the interests of high ranking national and local politicians, who have been siding with the company while eying their own shares. Two months after the evictions, the governor of the area and an MP were accused of illegally seizing land on Twiga Farm.
While the ownership dispute was still pending in court on December 20, 2012, authorities rather than disputing ownership argued people had illegally constructed on the land to justify the evictions. That day residents of Kiambu were surprised by bullets over their heads and bulldozers demolishing their houses. Four people were killed by bullets during the eviction. High ranking police and administration officials from the area were present and only 6 hours after the eviction police had already constructed a police station of trailers and iron tents on the farm. Many of the displaced people were elderly, who have been born on the land and cultivated it for their whole lives. Within one day they and their families were robbed of shelter and livelihood, some resorting to camp by the roadside until today.
The National Land Accord Movement (NLAM) â€“ which has been working on land injustices including several cases of land grab and resettlement of IDPs from the 2007/2008 Post Election Violence â€“ has been assisting residents in their fight for their land. Together they collected close to 2000 signatures to demand an investigation into the evictions, its legality and the manner of how it was carried out. They demand perpetrators be held culpable, reparations and compensation for lives and livelihoods.
Although members of NLAM have been frequently threatened, followed home by armed people and even openly warned to not continue the process by politicians and police, they remained persistent and residents of Kiambu finally sent a clear message to the government on Tuesday. When the signed petition was returned to the group eagerly waiting across the road â€“ where police had bundled them off â€“ it seemed as if they had been told to return to their homes today. A group of elderly women hugged each other with tears of pain, relieve and joy. Walking sticks, youthful arms and old fists were raised in the air, expressing the peoplesâ€™ resilient belief in justice- and their hope.
However, their joy and hope also leave a cramp somewhere in the stomach area, because the times are against them. It was evident in the absence of decision makers and silence in national media. In a global neo-liberal framework that demands pro- corporation, pro- profit development lead by investments, they are only one example of the massive land grabs and evictions taking place in Kenya and in Africa. The collusion of local, national and international money and power is more and more legalizing the disowning of people of their lands in the name of economic growth, development or investment. It is a powerful partnership to stand up against.
Leila van Rinsum is a copy editor at Pambazuka and freelance journalist. She studied Political Science at the University of Nairobi. This article first appeared on the blog Kenyans For Tax Justice.