President Uhuru Kenyatta’s “Forty Acres and a Mule” to Kenya’s IDPs and to her Landless.
The expression “forty acres and a mule” refers to a promise US Civil War General William T. Sherman made to freed African American slaves back in the late 1800s. The promise – Special Field Order No. 15 – reserved parts of Georgia and South Carolina for African-Americans i.e. each family was to receive forty acres. The mules, to be loaned from the Union Army, were to be delivered later.
Unfortunately, Andrew Johnson, America’s 17th president, overturned the order shortly thereafter, and returned the land (acres) – located in South Carolina, Georgia and Florida – back to their original owner and the rest, like ‘they’ say, is history.
To date, African-Americans half-jokingly allude to “still waiting for their forty acres and a mule” and semi-seriously agitate for some form of reparation.
Kenya’s loose equivalent or version of America’s “forty acres and a mule” was the Swynnerton Plan. In the book “Decolonization & Independence in Kenya: 1940-1993” by B.A. Ogot and W.R. Ochieng’, Mr. Ogot describes the main objective of the plan:
“To create land holdings…..large enough to keep the family self-sufficient in food and also enable them to practice alternate husbandry…..”
Unfortunately for most Kenyans, the very thing that happened to African-Americans happened to them. The expectation those who fought for independence had that along with independence, “they had earned the right to enjoy at least some of the fruits of independence”** was dashed – by the African leaders who replaced the white colonialists; primarily, Jomo Kenyatta.
** – “Kenya: Between Hope and Despair; 1963-2011″ by Daniel Branch.
With elections fast-approaching, the irony is not lost on this Kenyan that President Uhuru Kenyatta is running around the country issuing checks and title deeds to displaced and landless citizens, mostly in battleground counties.
This is the third piece I am writing on Kenya’s internally-displaced persons (IDPs); a phenomenon dating back to 2007 even though a compelling case can be made that the issue (of landlessness and squatters) goes back to the country’s fight for independence.
I am bringing it up again because of two reasons:
– The absolute absurdity of the reaction of the president’s supporters: Lionizing Mr. Kenyatta’s issuance of taxpayers’ monies BACK to the taxpayers of Gusiiland and simultaneously admonishing the recipients to take what is essentially THEIR money and express undying gratitude to the man the International Criminal Court (ICC) accused of fomenting the upheaval that displaced them in the first place!
– Even more ominous is the danger posed by Kenya’s continuing failure to deal – fairly and decidedly – with historical injustices especially those pertaining to landlessness – this despite President Kenyatta’s haphazard issuance of title deeds to a smattering of landless across the country.
Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago has been in the news for making “statements directed at one community” living in Uasin Gishu. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) rightfully warned Mr. Mandago, along with Oscar Sudi (MP Kapseret) and Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter against “spreading ethnic animosity” ahead of the elections.
To be perfectly clear, this article does NOT advocate any form of hatred or animus – implied, threatened or otherwise – against anyone.
On the other hand, I strongly believe that it is in the very best interest of Kenya’s long-term viability and stability for her leaders to face up to the underlying reasons behind her landless mostly-agrarian population; this as documented in at least three blue/white ribbon panel/commission reports – Ndungu, Waki, Akiwumi and TJRC.
Even as I support and encourage the NCIC to investigate and punish, to the full extent of the law, anyone convicted of hate speech and/or inciting violence, let me also point out that the three afore-mentioned politicians – Mandago, Sudi and Keter – are, like most politicians are wont to do, appealing to the past realities of their constituents. The foregoing is a fact alluded to in the statement that appeared in a Thursday (6/8) editorial in the Standard Digital that offered the view that “Mandago could be harboring genuine grievances” (but is, in my opinion, going about it the wrong way).
Telling those who believe they have borne the brunt of an unjust and ethnocentric system to “be thankful for what they’ve been given and move on” – especially when the amount they’ve been given is markedly less than the amounts given perceived beneficiaries of the same (rigged) system is a recipe for disaster.
Add to the foregoing, the fact that the person extending the “magnanimity” (UK) is scion of the one man (Jomo) responsible for setting in motion, the chain of events currently roiling the country (50+ years later) and one can see why Mr. Mandago et co are dangerously reckless in some of their utterances.
President Uhuru Kenyatta may not want to make public or act on the reports identified above – for a variety of reasons. However, let me advise him (and his handlers) to read the book “What is Life Worth?: The Unprecedented Effort to Compensate the Victims of 9/11” by American attorney Kenneth Feinberg.
Mr. Feinberg oversaw disbursement of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund – a $7bn (KSh.700bn kitty) and wrote about the experience which in my opinion, mirrors the trauma and emotional angst caused by Kenya’s post-election violence and past injustices. He also oversaw the BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Victim Compensation Fund – a ~$50bn (KSh.5tn) for those affected by the BP oil spill off the Gulf of Mexico.
At a minimum, the book will provide a rational framework for dealing, fairly and consistently, with a long-standing emotional issue that is also a wicked problem.