Tuesday, August 5, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
August 5, 2008

Minister James Orengo of Kenya is determined to make a difference. He is bent on streamlining and resolving the fifty year old land problems in Kenya. He has vowed to implement the Ndung’u Report that was produced for President Kibaki in 2003.

Over in Uganda, the biggest problem for successive governments since Milton Obote era has been the question of lost districts of one kingdom or the other. The most dominant of them all, the Baganda Kingdom has never come to terms with the fact that they are not in control of their land and their destiny. To date, they hope that one day, they will be a state within the state, a sort of federal arrangement with the greater Uganda government. It is the politics of autonomy and devolution of power from the centre.

In Tanzania, one of the greatest nightmares for the people of bongo land is the idea that there may one day be an East African political federation, an act that would bring an influx of land hungry Kenyans into their otherwise peaceful country.
The question to ask is this: Why has land become such a big issue in our region in the last one hundred years; that is since the advent of the Europeans into our villages?

Before the white man invaded our villages, our clans and tribes fought over territorial lands. It was the same reasons that Romans, Germans and the French conquered most of Europe at different times in history. With conquests of foreign lands, came bounty, cheap labour, cultural domination and of course imperialism. The vanquished became subjects of the conquerors.

In our case, tribal or ancestral lands once conquered became communal lands with each household given portions according to their needs, strength or prowess in battle. Land was never for sale or speculation. It was never a symbol of wealth. Wealth and success were measured in the number of wives, children, heads of cattle, sheep and goats. It was also measured among other communities in the ability to till the land and feed a large family and other less endowed villagers throughout the year.

More importantly wealth was only recognized if the owner was a generous person.
However, since the Europeans came to Africa, they brought with them the idea of land ownership for commercial purposes. In their ways, wealth was measured in the amounts of land one owned. The landlord culture bred greed for land. Non land owners became squatters and labourers in their own ancestral lands.

The Kenyan situation is unique in East Africa. The forceful eviction of indigenous tribes from their lands by European settlers culminated in several rebellions by different groups at different times in our history. Names like Koitalel in Rift Valley and Dedan Kimathi fifty years later are testimony that local communities rose up in arms to defend their lands the same way they had fought against other tribes when their territories were invaded.

The irony is that when the Europeans finally left Kenya after being bought off by the very colonial power, the money the colonial power gave Kenya to buy European land and redistribute it to the landless disappeared in the pockets of new black rulers!

This pathetic swindling of freedom fighters by the so called “liberators” is the thorny issue that the current Minister for Lands has to deal with. Had the true liberators taken the reigns of Kenya at independence and distributed land to the landless as expected, chances are that Kenya today would be more peaceful than it is today.

Rift Valley, Central and Coast Provinces are unique cases in Kenya’s land politics. They are the regions that have suffered the most through land grabbing and forest deforestation. Unfortunately this evil practice was encouraged by Jomo Kenyatta and institutionalized by Daniel arap Moi. All Kibaki did was to be a beneficiary of his predecessors like all the President’s men were without doing anything to right the wrongs even after coming to power six years ago. Now we have a 45 year old problem haunting the children and grandchildren of those who committed these treasonable acts against their people.

To correct land imbalances existing in Kenya today, Mr. James Orengo will have to step of the toes of thousands of beneficiaries spanning over 45 years. He will step on the toes of retired and current cabinet ministers, top civil servants, military generals, church ministers and their children! He will be stepping on the toes of three regimes and the entire political, economic and social systems all combined! As the landless masses will be cheering him on, will the wealthy and not so wealthy land owners allow him to lead this crusade to its logical conclusion?