18 June 2017

Kenya: Raila's Utterances On Land and Talk On Historical Injustices

Photo: Uhuru Kenyatta/Twitter
President Kenyatta said inciting sentiments like those issued by opposition leader Raila Odinga in Kajiado were a recipe for violence, which Kenyans must reject.

Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga has in recent days made statements on land and settlement rights that have raised eyebrows.

The first was in the Times of London interview published on June 12 where he seemed to suggest that his administration would seize and break up the vast ranches and game conservancies owned by white farmers in Laikipia County and surrounding regions.

The second was at a campaign rally in Kajiado County on June 16, where he made statements interpreted as advocating the expulsion of "outsiders" from Maasailand.

Both statements on issues - land rights and historical injustices - that have always formed a core plank in Mr Odinga's politics, predictably provoked furious reactions.

NATIONAL AGENDA

They touched on key national agenda issues such as land rights, national cohesion, ethnic relations, freedom to own land and live anywhere in the country, protection from discrimination and security.

After The Times article was published, Mr Odinga moved swiftly to deny the report.

He claimed through a spokesman that the respected British paper had "misplaced" his comments by suggesting he was among politicians accused of inciting local communities against the owners.

The paper has in relation to Mr Odinga's comments added that on a previous visit to the region, he had been accused by local leaders of inciting the land invasions where herdsmen had been forcibly driving their cattle into the big ranches, and reacting violently to any resistance.

SHOT CONSERVATIONIST

In March, armed herders shot to death a co-owner of Sosian Ranch Tristan Voorspuy, and the following month, world famous conservationist and author Kuki Gallman, owner of the 100,000-acre Ol Ari Nyiro farm, was injured in a shooting.

The paper recalled that an MP from Mr Odinga's ODM party, Mr Mathew Lempurkel, was arrested and charged in connection with the attack on Mr Voorspuy's farm.

Mr Odinga's denial was in relation to the background references in The Times that seemed to link him to the attacks in Laikipia.

But otherwise, there was no denial on the specific quotes having him vow to dismantle largely white-owned Laikipia ranches if he wins the election in August.

The paper had Mr Odinga lay the blame for the violent land invasions in which several people have been killed and tourist lodges and homes destroyed, on the ranchers, rather than the invaders, and on the government's failure to offer lasting solution.

PRODUCTIVE USE OF LAND

"These ranches are too big and the people don't even live there, they live in Europe and only come once in a while," he had said, adding "There's a need for a rationalisation to ensure that there's more productive use of that land."

The Times did not actually quote him specifically say that he would "dismantle" the ranches, which was probably their own interpretation.

But what he said did open itself to that conclusion if his solution was tied to the ranches being "too big" and owned by absentee foreigners.

The interview opened Mr Odinga up to accusations that he was in support of the violent land invasions and advocating Zimbabwe-style land seizures.

"No one has tabled any evidence of Odinga inciting Laikipia residents to violence.

BROKER UNDERSTANDING

What Mr Odinga has called for is for the government to broker an understanding between the ranchers and locals and help bring peace between the two groups," the opposition leader's spokesman responded,

"That is what he is promising to do as president. He is on record condemning the attack on Kuki Gallman and calling on the government to restore law and order".

The Laikipia issue is a complex one that the government has not fully addressed.

While it has moved in a large security contingent to counter the invaders, there has been little evidence of action on the economic and social conditions that have led to the invasions.

On the one hand, there is the seasonal movements by herders in search of pasture for their cattle during drought, when any lush grasslands and watering points beckon them.

INVASIONS

But the invasions this year have taken on a decidedly violent turn and also attracted the attention of the British media because many of the owners of the big ranches, private game conservancies and tourist lodges are of British stock.

Many have ignored the fact that farms, albeit much smaller, owned by indigenous Kenyans, have also been affected.

There are also local grievances arising out of the fact that just a few families, who happen to be of European descent even if Kenyan citizens, own vast tracts of land that might be looked on covetously by the locals.

Then there are also the localised conflicts where the Samburu pastoralists who look at the region as their ancestral land now being farmed by "settlers" who include not just the whites, but also other Kenyans, mostly the Kikuyu.

LOCAL CONFLICT

The local conflict is one that might be replicated in Kajiado where Mr Odinga's comments could be seen as incendiary in a region where the local Maasai live side by side with others Kenyans who have bought land and settled in the area.

The opposition presidential candidate did not expressly call for eviction of any communities, but urged the local Maasai to hold on to their land instead of forever selling it off.

But he also made unflattering reference to "outsiders" who have settled in Kajiado in big numbers, a statement that could be seen as inciting the Maasai against the settler communities.

The statement caught the attention of President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto who, at their campaign rally in Bomet County, accused Mr Odinga of trying to instigate ethnic violence akin to the 2007-2008 post-election violence.

PRIVATE LAND OWNERSHIP

Both Jubilee and Nasa proclaim support for unrestricted private land ownership, the willing-buyer-willing seller policy, and the right of all Kenyans, irrespective of ethnicity or colour, to buy and own land and live anywhere in the country.

Mr Odinga also has a history of campaigning for historical injustices around land issues to be addressed.

This is often in relation to land grabbing by individuals, as well as dispossession of entire communities and groups out of either colonial land grabs or more modern day settlements.

He has also called for implementation of the report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission which devoted considerable space to land injustice.

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