Even as the season of political greetings and forgiveness for sins of commission and omission abound, among the political class keen to engage in gamesmanship, with an avowed disinterested and disengaged electorate, low-level skirmishes have been taking place in a corner of the Rift Valley, making nonsense of the presumably prevailing handshakes and forgiveness aura.
The residents of Natooli division in the expansive Naivasha constituency have for the past three months been living in agony, despondency and fear, and as we write, rendered homeless, because their homesteads have been razed by supposedly marauding youthful invaders and warriors, supervised by the combined force of the Kenya Police and Administration Police (AP).
The people living in Natooli are mainly Maasai, Kikuyu and a smattering of other ethnic communities found in the larger Rift Valley region. At the heart of the matter is the 10,000-acre land that the Maasai people have been mainly inhabiting since 1995, when the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) ceded it, largely to the Maasai community, while the Settlement Fund Trustees (SFTs) took control of part of the land. The land rests on four fertile ridges.
HAPPY VALLEY PAST
Thus, many of the Maasai people in Natooli - contrary to the conventional belief by a majority of Kenyans that the pastoralist Maasai only know how to keep animals - farm the land, as well as, of course, keep their cows and goats and sheep. The sedentary Kikuyu do what they know best: grow crops and engage in petty and retail trading. As long as everybody kept to their lane, the different ethnic communities lived in harmony and peace. Then came 2012.
When the ADC took over the farm in 1987, it closed its offices in the lower grounds of Ndabibi and relocated to Rumuruti in Nanyuki, precisely to Mutara Group Ranch. The Natooli settlement area used to be part of a much bigger farm, owned by the late Gilbert Colville, a white man known by his Maasai name, Nasore. Nasore, in his heyday, owned 54,000 acres, which, suffice it to say, was part of the infamous Happy Valley enclave that a hedonist white settler community in the 1930s through to the early 1950s turned into a playground for playboys and socialite memsahibs, whose pastime was swapping husbands and wives through lottery.
In 2012, ADC allegedly returned to reclaim its farm, "but it is not the ADC per se as the organisation that came back, but individuals, who had a hideous agenda," said Maasai elders that I met in the heartland of the Ndabibi settlement scheme. "These individuals had one mission - to dispossess us of the 10,000 acres that the Maasai largely occupy." The elders said when they read the real intentions of the so-called individuals purporting to be ADC officials, they went to court, to ostensibly stop these individuals from interfering with the management of the land.
These individuals, the Maasai elders opined, were influential and powerful within the government ranks and in political circles. "To create an imagined crisis among and within the Maasai people, they shopped for a few greedy Maasais, including a former MCA and apportioned them 1,500 acres in total," narrated the elders. "The idea and aim of this machination was two-fold: to bribe a few Maasai elders with some land and foment discontent among the larger Maasai community living in Natooli, giving the impression that the Maasai were quarreling among themselves."
Meanwhile, a court in Nakuru had issued restraining orders to any person or persons interfering with the control of the land registered under Leramatesho Ltd. "We think these individuals, whose now true intentions were to grab our land, realised the court orders were not working in their favour and that they were taking too long, and hence, in a real sense had no intentions whatsoever to obey them, schemed a new plot," said the elders.
"One evening in January 2016, Kalenjin warriors were found at Centre 1 (the main trading post of Natooli), and had waylaid Maasai herders going to pick up their animals in the nearby forest grazing area." Centre 1 is a cosmopolitan area, inhabited largely by Kikuyu, Kalenjin and Maasai communities. The Maasai have been granted grazing rights in Eburu Forest, which is fenced with electric wire.
On the day of the skirmish, the Maasai were having a baby shower ceremony - a baby-naming occasion, which to the Maasai people is as important as when the baby itself was born. "That particular skirmish, full of flying poisoned arrows, resulted in the Kalenjin warriors taking control of the centre," reminisced the elders. "The crux of the matter is that the Maasai were taken by surprise, and therefore overpowered." The elders told me they did not know then what was the true intention of that scuffle.
"One month after, on February 16, the warriors regrouped again and petrol-bombed five homesteads," said the elders. One person was killed: Jackson Muriuki, aka Mokorino, the chairman of the Kikuyu community. "We had reported the matter of the new skirmishes to the Officer Commanding Station (OCS) of the Kongoni Police Station, Chief Inspector Orandi, because our intelligence had told us the warriors were still keen on invading Center 1." On March 30 there was another attack and 300 sheep were taken away.
Six months later, on October 10, another skirmish took place: another person killed, a Maasai herder. "The following day, (a police commander) came to the area and 33 cattle were ferreted away and he oversaw the burning of some homesteads," said the elders.
Fast-forward to March/April 2018. The attacks are renewed. The plan, the elders tell me, is to disrupt farming activities. "On Easter Friday, the warriors slashed an 80-year-old Maasai woman. As recently as May 11, 2018, the homesteads were still being razed by the warriors under the command of the police and the AP,' said the elders. "On the weekend of April 21-22, Pastor Jackson Kararu of the Pentecostal Assemblies of God (PAG) church in Centre 1 spent the night at the Naivasha Police Station, 50 km from his congregation." His crime: "He had ostensibly shielded some residents whose homestead had been torched," said the elders.
The elders told me this week that if the skirmishes continue there will be no peace in the adjoining areas of Kuresoi, Molo, Njoro and Solai. In a recent baraza, called to address the ongoing orchestrated conflict, and attended by, among others, Naivasha MP Jayne Kihara the Maasai elders said: "We will not allow what happened in the North Rift 10 years ago to happen again at Natooli. We are ready to defend ourselves, our dignity and our existence."
On May 11, 2018, the court ordered "that pending the hearing and determination of this Application, Conservatory Orders are hereby issued restraining the Respondents from advertising the sale, selling, evicting the Petitioners, transferring, invading or dealing in any way with parcel of Land NO 205591, part of which was formerly L.R. 6233, which currently subdivided as 20591/59, 20591/79, 20591/86 -119, LR. No7265, L.R No 410/1, L.R NO 410/2 and L.R 7281/1-37."
The author is a senior writer for 'The Elephant', a Nairobi-based publication.