Land Distribution & The Scramble for the Till
As the December 2007 to the following several months in 2008 post-election ethnic clashes got worse in Kenya, I talked to my politician cousin, Oneko, about how this could happen again (inciting ethnic groups against each other had been utilized twice by Moi, the first in 1992 and then 1997). “We have our role model, the USA, only that we’re still in the Early Stages instead of the Globalization Stage where the States is today,” said Oneko. “These guys tap on the fact that humankind reacts viscerally to fear and hatred. And we have tacitly adopted the Jeffersonian democracy of the First Amendment, freedom of expression and the Second Amendment, right to bear arms – even if the arms are basically machetes and boxes of matches.” A sui generis disdain, distrust and division. So polling stations are shifted to other places in the night before the election day, so that voters have to walk or drive thirty or more kilometres to cast their votes. Or the voters are redirected on the day of elections to a non-existent polling station half a day’s walk away. In the reigning amorality, the dead and injured in ethnic clashes are mere logistics. Oneko even recounting how the American political parties also encouraged their citizens to distrust certain groups, distrust each other, lynch and burn certain people and churches. Only the rich and powerful are spared. We discussed how, like in Kenya now, political leaders in the States had weakened America by splitting Americans into factions. How such leaders prey on both the worst and the best in people. How those in and with power are protected at the expense of the weak. Kenyan leaders, like others elsewhere in Africa and other continents, had watched and copied well.
The first consideration in Kenyan politics is of course the strategy to be as near the till as possible. At best one should be keeper of the gates to the treasury and the vaults of the central bank. Second is an aggressive nepotism. My cousin and I talked for hours and I was fascinated about what he disclosed to me about the discussions that Kenyan politicians indulge in at private watering holes. How they swap information about American politics and how to apply the same for Kenya, moulding things to suit their regional purposes. Yet in matters such as nepotism, the Kenya politics differs greatly from the USA variant.
In the USA the nepotism whirls and there are hurricanes of favouritism, yet the alliances and loyalties tend to stick together. Rival camps competing for new turfs fight together to preserve existing ones. Everybody remains in their clan saddles despite the whirls and hurricanes. The Americans do things in a more “constitutional” manner. The clique with the sceptre enact new laws here and pull some inconvenient ones out of the way. For example, in 1992 the US Congress approved of a law paragraph that forbade the Americans giving any military assistance to Azerbaijan because of the conflicts in the region. But ten years later, on January 25th 2002, George Bush did away with the paragraph, finding it “necessary” to do so because there was an “international war against terrorism”. But the real reason was the oil reserves around the Caspian Sea estimated at 100 billion barrels – but sitting right there on the doorsteps of Putin’s Russia. The old guard of the US national security – Kissinger, J. A. Baker III, Dick Cheney, John H. Sununu, Brent Scowcroft Lloyd Bentsen, Zbigniev Brzezinski and so on – got together. By autumn of 2003 the Bush administration had created the project “Caspian Guard” to arm not only Azerbaijan but also Kazakhstan. Where there’s oil there are American oil multinationals, US military forces whose long and at the same time short arms (shortened by capital as usual), are the private military companies, harmlessly called security companies. The lord of the realm in the world of PMCs is the US Blackwater Group. In 2004, after being armed in the name of “war against terrorism”, the Azerbaijani Parliament passed a law forbidding any foreign troops being stationed in Azerbaijan. A wag of the finger at Moscow and Teheran, who were understandably not amused at the USA-Azerbaijan alliance. Blackwater and the US troops were of course only there to “train” the Azerbaijanis in the tactics of the Navy SEALs. Blackwater has long since attained military immunity without the accompanying military accountability.
Another example my cousin discussed with me was the New Orleans catastrophe after Hurricane Katrina in August 2005. It ushered in what is now tagged “Baghdad on the Bayou”. Long before any public help could be offered the victims, miraculously the streets were teeming with PMCs totting G17 pistols and Mossberg-M590As. They claimed to be on patrol. So where were and why had the local police, guards and other such civil authority personnel been as quick to get to the streets and help the people? Something had happened, Oneko disclosed to me. President Bush had scratched off the Davis-Bacon Act, a law passed in 1931 which saw to it that, following a hurricane, the reconstruction work that needed to be done to the devastated areas and the workers to be employed were to receive the wages normally paid in those areas. Capital does not believe in charity, let alone humbleness, and so capital had harrumphed. PMCs could demand the highest-paid government contracts and pay the workers (PMCs are allowed to recruit and employ foreigners from around the globe, including citizens of those countries against the Iraq war and not part of the “Coalition of the Willing”) and pay employees the lowest wages possible. The entire “reconstruction” battalion of Iraq must have paid obeisance to Hurricane Katrina.
African leaders watch and read about these matters, then simplify to work out a common factor with the regional equation. In Kenya the boardroom shifts, political loyalties and intrigues have the characteristics of chameleons. They don’t bother with fiddling around with the laws or pushing in new ones. The presidential powers are of the nature of the sort of power a parent has over their infant – protect and nurture or ignore and annihilate. The (infant) citizenry has no redress. Top money mavericks of the Kenyatta error leapt onto the Moi error as smoothly as ballerinas. The same have swan-laked over to the Kibaki administration. Business friendships interpret into selling and/or buying whether you want to or not, by some unspoken “order of the president”, and then cords are mixed anew. Some are smarter in mixing the money games cocktail than others. Unlike the USA, Kenya is not the land of unlimited opportunities, it the land of limited ones concentrated in the hands of a tiny group with unlimited opportunities. Their stage is an impenetrable citadel within which they perform their Swan Lake choreographies strictly among themselves. Once in a while the horns are blown and their emissaries stand on the turrets to deliver messages to the citizens about why things are always getting from worse to worst – El Nino. Inflation. Strong Euro. Tsunami. The OPEC. “Some greedy elements” in the government. The Opposition. Britain refusing to help in investigations in corruption money in London banks. The previous governments (and Kenya is only on the third government so far over a period of 44 years).
In these 44 years the wealth has been accumulated around the ethnic groups of the three presidents, where both Kenyatta and Kibaki hail from the same ethnic group, with Moi serving longest in office (24 years) in between the Kenyatta and Kibaki governments. When Moi came to power, it must have stunned him, like jumping into an icy ocean. But not for long. He surfaced like a whale and it was L’Etat, C’est Moi all the way. He told everybody including the world community to go to blazes. Once considered Britain’s jewel in Africa, the leisure stopover paradise on the way to the riches of the crown jewel, India, Kenya was tarnished and is continuing to be even more tarnished. The ethnic clashes following the December 2007 vote-rigging has little if anything at all, to do with ethnicity. It has more to do with the Scramble for the Till. Especially the African people’s most precious and sacred one: the land of their ancestors to till and in which to bury their dead. This problem is seen in Zimbabwe and post-apartheid South Africa. And, once again, the roots lie in colonialism.
In the 1890s, the British initially had little interest in colonizing Kenya. They were more interested in Uganda because of the source of the Nile (Lake Victoria) in order to maintain their control of Egypt and the Suez Canal. It was believed that control of the Nile and its source was paramount. But Uganda was landlocked. So they decided to build a railway line from the Kenyan harbour city Mombasa, across Kenya into Uganda in order to transport British troops from Egypt to Uganda. The British began the inventory of injustices with regards to the land in Kenya. For centuries, the Eastern African coastal strip, including that of Kenya, had been under the rule of the Zanzibari Sultanate with many Arabs settled on the mainland and Islam the widely spread religion of the region. To get access to Mombasa the British made a Concession Agreement with the Sultanate through the colonial trading company, the Imperial British East Africa Company (IBEAC), who then acquired all the rights to Kenyan land that was in the Sultan’s territory, except for private land. But then it happened that land held under certificates of ownership issued by the Sultan belonged to Arabs. The indigenous Mijikenda African ethnic groups, especially those who had not intermingled with Arabs, could not prove ownership of the land they occupied. This greatly suited the British. To make sure no further claims to land ownership by the coastal African population took place, they embarked on the promulgation of the Land Titles Ordinance that demanded that “All persons being or claiming to have an interest in whatever immovable property […] before the expiration of six clear months […] make a claim in respect there of…” Further, they declared that “All land […] concerning which no claim or claims for a certificate of ownership shall have been made […] shall be deemed to be Crown land”.
And thus Kenyans were fitted into the shoes the Native Americans had been fitted into ages before them. There were many reasons why the Africans made no claims, one of them being the short period of six months for a people whose sense of time, at least at that particular period, was just about infinite. Another reason was also the cultural one, where the people had their own system of land ownership and could not comprehend why they should be requested to lay claims against the land of their forebears that had belonged to them since the beginning of time. They made no claims. And lost the land. The British brought in Indian coolies (and some Chinese) as construction workers to start building the railway line, that would later be dubbed the Lunatic Line because the lions found the construction workers a wonderful culinary delight. But the railway line was only the beginning.
With the Suez having been completed in 1869, the British strategic thinkers not only wanted to secure this route to the treasures of India, they wanted settlers to guard the tracks and provide freight and passengers who would pay for the Kenya-Uganda railroad. London brought in British sons and daughters to sprinkle along the right-of-way. Here, after their experience with the coastal indigenous peoples, the British simply decided that no individual or communities of Africans had any title to land. Wielding the Land Title Ordinance, lands occupied by Africans were proclaimed ownerless. With hegemony robbing them of Christian compassion, the British, delighted to find a “white man’s country” (because West Africa had been proclaimed a “white man’s grave” climatically), in the person of the Law Office of the Crown, declared on 13th December 1899, that under Britain’s Foreign Jurisdiction Act of 1890, the imperial power had control and could dispose of “waste and unoccupied land in protectorates where there was no settled form of government and where land had not been appropriated to the local sovereign or to individual.” And so, for ten cents per acre paid for African land to Her Majesty’s government, British viscounts and counts, barons and baronesses, lords and ladies swept Africans off their land, herded them in “native reservations” and occupied the vast areas of the so-called White Highlands. There were also the red blooded ones, hunters, fortune seekers and the ones who needed to settle in a place with neither police stations nor police records. They all trekked in to make this corner of “bloody Africa” into Yorkshire, Sussex or Devon. And worse. Because they were a merry lot, one and all, chance-takers engaging into wife-swapping, lion-hunting and polo-playing sons and daughters of the Crown Colony Kenya. The Highlands were mainly in the Rift Valley (Kalenjin- and Maasailand), Western Trans Nzoia (Luhyaland), Laikipia (Kalenjin and Kisiiland) and Central Kenya (Kikuyuland). The Coast Province (Mijikenda land – "the nine cities" – who are the nine ethnic groups along the coast of Kenya from the border of Somalia in the north to the border of Tanzania in the south, whose ethnonyms are Chonyi, Digo, Duruma, Giriama, Jibana, Kambe, Kauma, Nyika, Rabai, Ribe) was also prime coconut and sisal growing as well as development land for the tourism industry that drew in Bill Holden and Ernest Hemingway, Grace Kelly and Clark Gable, Stewart Granger and Teddy Roosevelt.
When the British had had enough of the burden of empire-building and independence came to Kenya, the new administrators grabbed the Land Titles Ordinance of the early 1890s. To quote, “When Africans finally took over the governing of their countries following independence, they obediently continued the dovetailing and stepped into the only system (psychologically as well as physically) they had known…” This Land Titles Ordinance loophole gave Kenyatta, Moi, Kibaki and the other landed powerbrokers in Kenya the means with which to acquire vast lands and leave the citizens landless squatters. They formed land acquisition companies that began heisting in grand styles. While ruling the country for 15 years, Kenyatta, his family, clansmen, close friends, prebendaries and hangers-on used the elaborate Settlement Transfer Fund Scheme(STFS), funded by the British Government and the World Bank, to acquire huge tracts of land all over the country. This translates into lands that, before the British, had belonged to other ethnic groups the British had herded into “native reservations”. And this post colonial feral land-grabbing by a handful on the roundtable – either jointly or individually – is the real cause of the post-election clashes in Kenya, not “tribalism” per se as the West, the Kenyan politicians and the media they control would have us believe. Before the rigged-election of December 27th 2007, Kenyans had long learnt to live with each other irrespective of ethnicity and hundreds of thousands have intermarried. Kenya’s demography has a majority younger generation who are more politically informed and interconnected. What Kibaki had promised them in 2003, especially regarding the redistribution of land had not been fulfilled. They made use of their democratic rights and went to the polls to get rid of Kibaki. Then came the rigged elections and the “loser” politicians inadvertently pitched the young Kenyans against each other in “demonstrations” to have the votes counted again. The “winner” faction, following an under cover of night swearing in of Kibaki as President, had the power to use state police and troops to stop the demonstrators from demonstrating. And all hell broke loose.
 K’Orinda-Yimbo, Akinyi Princess, Darkest Europe and Africa’s Nightmare: A critical Observation of Neighboring Continents, New York: Algora Publishing, p. 56.