As I wrote and did a little more research on this land issue I quickly realized that it is such a wide and complex time bomb that it will in fact take numerous posts (and not just 3) to cover it adequately. And yet it is too important to put on the back burner, especially now.
Solution: I will write several posts on it (interrupting them with the usual posts on other subjects) until I feel that it has been covered enough. The objective will be to raise public awareness and interest on this subject. Simply put without both, how can we even begin to hope to sort out the terrible mess that is the land issue in Kenya?
But let me start this post with an amazing bombshell I unearthed.
Did you know how former President Daniel Arap Moi ended up with the land allocation frenzy that virtually ate up almost every vacant prime land leading to allocations in the Mau and Karura forest that have such dire long term implications on the future of millions of Kenyans?
To answer that question we need to go back to the beginnings of the Kenyatta administration. Many Kenyans do not know this, but it is not only those close to the president who benefited from land allocations during the Kenyatta era. Some crafty Kenyans who happen to be Kikuyus came up with an amazingly effective scheme that worked every time. They would use President Kenyatta’s name to grab any land they wanted. “Mzee anataka hii.” And in those days of people disappearing and then being found very dead and with their private parts chopped off and put in their mouths, who would dare challenge such a statement? And even if you wanted to check would you pick up the telephone and call State House (then an unlisted number) to find out if it was true that the old man wanted your shamba? There are numerous prime plots and land all over the country that were acquired in this way. Even businesses (some owned by foreign investors who did not have the right connections) were taken over in this way. This led to another scheme by those close to the president who designed an “insurance scheme” where every serious foreign investor was adviced to allocate 10% to 15% shares free of charge to members of the first family and those close to them. This percentage climbed up to over 50% at one juncture during the Moi days. If you doubt the Kenyatta ownership of companies story then do some research on the shareholding history of major hotels at the Coast to start with. But all that is a juicy story for another day.
Back to "earth" matters. Later when the Kenyatta administration started running into one political crisis after another it was realized that they would always bank on the solid support of the Kikuyu community who had benefited tremendously from Kenyatta’s rule. It is a truism that no serious political leadership can survive with solid bed rock support from somewhere and the president’s community was naturally the easiest to reach out to and what’s more would always be counted on. And what made the support of this community even more effective was its’ sheer economic power which is also critical in meeting certain political objectives. Little wonder that in the latter days of Kenyatta’s rule this “landgrabbing” using the president’s name was secretly encouraged mainly by being ignored and action not being taken on culprits. Unless of course they failed to do their due diligence and ended up grabbing property that was already owned by “Kenyatta people.” Some politacl savy Kenyans made their fortunes by taking adavantage of times of political crisis like the Tom Mboya assassination in 1969 and the killing of JM Kariuki in 1975.
Now when Moi took over power in 1978 it did not take him long to realize that he was a sitting duck with such a wealthy and powerful Kikuyu class that had benefited greatly form the Kenyatta years. This message sunk deep after especially after the failed coup attempt in 1982. Moi quickly decided that he would duplicate what had happened during the Kenyatta years by empowering the Kalenjin community using land allocations. By this time he had seen how quickly people can become wealthy in Kenya by simply making use of some space of dirt. And so the land allocations started.
It was a failure because the Kalenjin community did not have the same background the Kikuyu had when it came to utilizing land. One commentator described this in a way I cannot better so let me quote him verbatim.
“Before the coming of the whites, Kikuyus had two types of land tenure in co-existence: private ownership, and common ownership (the commons). Usually, the commons were owned by individual clans. If you read Leakey's works (written around 1900s) you will see how the British were surprised to find the law governing the Kikuyu private ownership component was similar in many respects to the law of England at that time. So when the British alienated Kikuyu land, they were alienating both privately owned land and land held in common by clans. For example, when Captain Grogan took the land where the UoN main campus stands, he took it from an individual (a woman) and the land in Chiromo where Grogan's house still stands was held in common by the woman's clan. Remember the descendants of the woman trying to revive the question of that land in the early1990's?
Thus the fight between the Kikuyu and the British was fueled by three-layered bitterness: at the tribe level, at the clan level and at the individual level.”
From this you can gather that the Kikuyu were way ahead of virtually all the other Kenyan communities where land was concerned. In other communities land was never owned by individuals and therefore the concept of gaining wealth through land was very alien.
The result was that many Kalenjins who had access to land allocations during the Moi tenure simply got millions into their bank accounts, only to blow it all and end up paupers soon after. Remember all those stories that used to be told about Kalenjins driving around with lots of cash stuffed all over the place including in that lockable place on the dashboard of a vehicle? Very few got wealth and retained it. One of those few is Agriculture Minister William Ruto who sold allocated land to the NSSF at exorbitant prices and then cleverly re-invested his funds elsewhere.
With all due respect to our Kalenjin brothers, they are not the only non-Kikuyu community in Kenya that do not have the “expertise” to turn dirt into gold Kikuyu-style. Moi also rewarded a number of people from other communities with massive land allocations. One such beneficiary was the then chief of general staff General Joseph Mulinge. Although the ailing Mulinge is still a very wealthy man by any standards, one mzungu property expert (now deceased) who was also his advisor was irked by the Generals’ tendency to put up buildings at the least excuse, on every piece of land he owned. Many times these structures would end up almost useless and not worth the fortune in bricks and mortar invested in them.
Clearly what we are faced with in Kenya today is a situation where we have to find a way to correct what happened during Kenyatta’s 15 years in power and then add Moi’s 24 years. A total of 39 years of land allocations (legal and otherwise) as well as land grabbing.
So how do you even begin to correct that without adopting pure Karl Max communism? How do you write off the wealthiest Kenyan families and still hope to hold the nation together?
Meanwhile all this land grabbing has taken its’ toll on ordinary Kenyans. It has speeded up their head-first plunge into poverty. Nobody has given ordinary Kenyans an alternative route to wealth that bypasses owning prime or fertile land. The only alternative used to be to educate their children so that they could get rich (from a very good job) one day and buy back family land. We all know that that doesn’t work any more.
No wonder Mwarangethe keeps on repeating here that we are headed for chaos and anarchy. The same regular Kumekucha commentator has taken time to push forward his ideas of using taxation to correct the situation.
I agree with him and many of his ideas but would like to quickly add that taxation alone will not do the trick. We need to empower Kenyans on how to make better use of land. We need to prove to the very skeptical Kenyans that one can make a lot of money from land and without getting it free and then re-selling it to the NSSF at the prices of 20 years to come. This can happen even if you do not own the land in the first place. There is no reason why most idle land cannot be hired.
I will discuss some of those ideas in my next post.