By Dorcas S
Back in the days of yore, before air-sniffing/analyzing technology to detect dangerous and toxic gases in coal mines was invented, miners carried then released canaries into the tunnels. The belief was that any dangerous levels of gases in the mine would kill the birds before killing the miners.
Death of the canary was an early warning for the miners to immediately exit the mine or risk death.
Laikipian and British rancher Tristan Voorspuy was recently shot by unknown assailants while inspecting property that had been razed in an earlier attack – also by unknown persons. Mr. Voorspuy’s death was one more in a long line of such attacks dating back to Kenyan’s independence which was a fight over self-rule AND land ownership.
And as has been repeatedly demonstrated since then, the fair and just allocation of land among the indigenous and original occupants thus owners of the respective tracts of land was never accomplished at the onset of Kenya’s independence.
This procrastination by the country’s leadership, especially Uhuru Kenyatta’s father Jomo allowed the problem to metastasize into a cancer with multiple layers** and so many actors with oftentimes conflicting agendas that land ownership has become the classic “wicked problem” i.e. a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often impossible to recognize and/or also interdependent.
** – The main layers of the conflict that immediately come to mind are wildlife conservation and its corollary tourism and pastoralism.
Any fair-minded person steeped in Kenya’s history who listened to the analysis offered by one Collins Wanderi on NTV shortly after Mr. Voorspuy’s death would immediately see why one can set the country’s general election clock based on occurrence of skirmishes such as the ones currently taking place in Laikipia.
Mr. Wanderi argues that the trigger for the violence that resulted in the rancher’s death was (the fight over) resources i.e. grazing for the pastoralists. He immediately pivots to the calling card of nativists who at once seek to “otherize” those they disagree with (European ranchers) even as they seek to maintain ties with them – oftentimes at the expense of the larger population which almost always bears the brunt of the resultant dysfunction.
According to Mr. Wanderi’s logic, that the twelve non-native ranchers own over half the arable land in Laikipia; ostensibly through “willing seller/willing buyer” transactions is mitigated, indeed negated by the fact that they are non-indigenous albeit naturalized Kenyans – who are racists – also!
It is indeed an interesting “analysis”.
Mr. Wanderi papers over the need to urgently confront the problem of land ownership in Kenya; a need and urgency that was expressed by none other than former Minister for Lands and Settlement and (former) Member of Parliament for the region G.G. Kariuki. In 2013 the former minister and then-senator for the region said that (T)here’s no reason why (President) Uhuru should not change this country forever. He has the power; he doesn’t need any other power. He has the wealth; he doesn’t need any other wealth.”
That is as pointed an articulation of the relationship between the accumulation of land (wealth) and the oftentimes relentless and murderous pursuit of political power in Kenya – made by a man who has been as close to the center of that power as it gets.
The conundrum Kenya faces is the open secret that like the twelve ranchers Mr. Wanderi harangues about, the Kenyatta family are among a handful of connected families who own most of the prime land in Kenya. The president’s family alone is said to own over half a million acres of choice real estate throughout Kenya including, like Mr. Voorspuy, in areas “outside” the family’s traditional home.
Bluntly put, the president’s family owns land outside their (arbitrary) Mt. Kenya home and with that, one can immediately see the danger Collin Wanderi’s logic portends when applied consistently and to its logical conclusion.
It also explains the country’s reluctance to make public, let alone act on, the recommendations of the various commissions assembled to “leave no stone unturned in investigating and getting to the bottom of (fill in the skirmish de jour).”
As recent as 2013, the report by the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) charged with investigating the post-election violence of 2007/8 averred that Kenya’s “post-independence governments (have) failed to honestly and adequately address land-related injustices that started with colonialism” and I’d argue, continued under the president’s father.
Paul Ndungu in a report on “illegal and irregular allocation of land” bearing his last name writes that “The land laws inherited from the British vested the whole Country in the President (Jomo). He and his advisors naturally felt that, just as the British Monarch had the power to alienate land as he pleased, it was perfectly in order for the President to use the same powers in favor of whoever he wished.”
Therein lies BOTH the conundrum and the solution to the wicked problem that is land ownership in Kenya – a reality Mr. Wanderi and Kenya writ large deliberately give a wide berth – but are rudely reminded of by Tristan Voorspuy’s death.