WHO OWNS THE LAND?
BLOOD AND SOIL ISSUES IN THE
KENYAN RIFT VALLEY
Wednesday June 25, 2008
The passion with which millions of
citizens valued their presidential vote in the stolen 2007
presidential elections can be reflected in scenes of the bloody
post-election clashes today that engulfed Rift Valley, Nyanza,
Coast, Nairobi, Western and to a less extent in other parts of the
country. Nakuru was the latest epicentre of inter ethnic murders.
The violent reactions to rigged elections may reflect the pain of
deep and historically rooted injustices some of which pre-date
Kenya’s independence in 1963.
They are in fact motivated and exacerbated by landlessness,
joblessness, and poverty believed to be heavily contributed
towards by the prevailing political status quo that has dominated
Kenya since independence. This is a system that has continuously
perpetrated, in successive fashion, socio-economic injustices that
have been seamlessly transferred from one power regime to the next.
The Land issue
With a fast growing population in Kenya, limited resources
including land and jobs, have severely been put in extreme
pressure. Responsive political operatives cognizant of this
reality have appreciated the importance of incorporating
progressive policies that seek to aggressively address poverty,
landlessness, unequal distribution of resources and unemployment,
as a matter of priority (in their party manifestos) if any social
stability is to be maintained in Kenya.
Without doubt, the opposition party ODM sold an attractive
campaign package that sought to address historic land injustices,
unemployment, inequitable resource sharing and poverty through a
radical constitutional transformation, under the framework of the
people-tailored Bomas Constitution Draft. ODM proposed to tackle
the land problem through clauses in the Bomas draft, captured
under devolution and land chapters, with specific plans to form a
National Land Commission to address the issue of landlessness and
historic injustices of expropriation of native land by colonial
and post-colonial powers. The roots of the land conflicts in Rift
Valley land lie with the former colonial power, Britain,
post-independence land policies by the Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Moi
and Mwai Kibaki administrations; and the tendency for ethnic
favouritism and patronage by power wielders.
Colonial expropriation of native lands in Rift Valley and Coast
In a nutshell, the British settlers literally grabbed native
Maasai and Kalenjin lands in Rift Valley and Miji-Kenda, Taita and
Taveta land at the Coast. At the Coast, there was also the added
grabbing hand of the Middle-East Sultans who lay claim to another
Coastal strip. Millions of voters from these
communities (now deeply affected by landlessness and poverty) are
today largely drawn towards ODM’s reform policies that seek to
address these INJUSTICES.
Long before Independence, vast arable tracts of the Rift Valley
were designated as White Highlands, reserved for European settlers.
The pastoralist communities, mainly Kalenjin and Maasai, were
simply moved away.
The 1904 and 1911 Anglo-Maasai land “Agreements” details the
unjust grabbing of Maasai lands in Laikipia, Naivasha, Ngong,
Karen, and tracts along the Uganda Railway line whereby uneducated
Maasai Laibons either friendly to, or fearful of the British (christened
Paramount Chiefs) like Lenana
Ole Mbatian, were cajoled and intimidated into giving away native
fertile Maasai land to the colonialists.
The words in the “Agreements” read like ……”we the undersigned,
being the Laibons of clans of Maasai, have of our own free will,
decided that it is for OUR best interests to REMOVE OUR PEOPLE,
FLOCKS, AND HERDS into definite reservations away from the Railway
line and away from European settlements…..” and “…..In conclusion,
we wish to state that we are quite satisfied with the foregoing
arrangement, and we bind ourselves and our successors, as well as
OUR PEOPLE, to observe them as long as the Maasai as a race shall
The next thing we knew was that the Maasai were crumbled into arid
portions of present day Kajiado and Narok districts. Grazing
fields, and the very pastoral lifestyle of the Maasai instantly
became threatened and continues to do so as we speak, without any
restitution, compensation or pro-active
rehabilitation into another life.
100 years later, when asked to address this burning Maasai land
issue, former Lands Minister appointed by Mwai Kibaki, Mr. Amos
Kimunya (now Finance Minister), once told the Maasai that there
was nothing to address since the wise Maasai forefathers had given
away their land to the British in a BINDING AGREEMENT which
continues to apply to date.
Well, similar horrid but true stories applied in Kalenjin lands of
Rift Valley and at the Coast too. Before independence, Kenyan
political parties argued over whether the native land should be
returned to the indigenous population under a federalist system of
government or kept firmly under the control of a
centralised state. Needless to add, those who favoured the latter
option, in the form of the Kenya African National Union (KANU),
which went on to form a government under Jomo Kenyatta, prevailed.
PART 2: 1963 - Independence, enter Jomo Kenyatta and GEMA
Landbuying companies. Trouble is, we had a majimbo constitution at
Jennifer Widner explained in her 1992 book, The Rise of A
Party-State in Kenya: From "Harambee!" to "Nyayo!" that KANU urged
central control of all regions in an effort to forestall local
majimbo legislation restricting land transfer to those born in the
area, and to maintain the foothold of the party's Kikuyu
supporters in the Rift Valley land market".
Many settlers were returning to Britain. Kenyatta and his cronies
quickly formed the Settlement Transfer Fund Schemes (STFS) and
asked the British for a loan to the Kenyan government, to buy off
land from colonial settlers returning to Britain. Good idea up to
Britain, having been reassured by Kenyatta that those settlers
still wishing to stay on in Kenya would not have their land
repossessed, advanced the money. This money was used to buy
settler land which was officially sold into the Kenyatta initiated
Settlement Transfer Fund Schemes (STFS).
Next, Kenyatta began to give away and sell for peanuts, these
government (STFS)-acquired, former colonial land parcels, to
himself, his family and cronies around 1964 and 1965. This is the
point when the rain started beating Kenya.
Kenyatta’s then Vice President, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, cried foul
and rejected these acts of wanton land grabbing. The opportunity
to choose nationalism and selflessness over greed and ethnic
tendencies was lost. Rather than address this land issue once and
for all, Kenyatta opted to
REPLACE the settler colonialist in land they had initially grabbed
from natives. We have began harvesting the seeds of the mustard
sown by Kenyatta in the 1960s. It will not be sweet at all.
The Seroneys and other Nandi and Kipsigis leaders immediately
cried foul when Kenyatta ensued in his land grabbing tendencies.
So were many Maasai and Miji-Kenda leaders like Ronald Ngala.
Their cries were feeble and over run. Today and tomorrow, their
descendants will demand justice and
restitution in an exercise that threatens to tear apart Kenya’s
Who will shoulder the burden of the
fruits enjoyed by Kenyatta and his cronies, Moi and his cronies,
and Kibaki and his latter day cronies? Will it be the poor Kenyan
taxpayer taking the bill in form of blood, and more taxes?
Going back....down memory lane.....
in the immediate post-independence era, the moment, the Seroneys
and Ogingas started crying foul, and nothing was done, we entered
a dangerous phase of our nation’s socio-political path.
The political leadership of Kenya
began carving out into two distinct groups. The pro-Kenyatta land
beneficiaries, sycophants and apologists were Tom Mboya, Daniel
Moi, Paul Ngei and others. Another force resisting the greedy
post-Independence governance by Kenyatta was led by Jaramogi
Oginga Odinga, and included several former KADU operatives like
Ronald Ngala, Jean Marie Seroney, Masinde Muliro, Martin Shikuku
Kenyatta soldiered on with his grabbing. He concurrently went
ahead with the help of Tom Mboya to change the constitution to
give immense imperial powers to the Presidency. He further began
using such powers to allocate more land to his cronies and
His salivating appetite for Rift Valley land largely motivated his
choice of Rift Valley natives as Vice President after Oginga
Odinga. First he chose a Maasai, Joseph Murumbi, who read the
scheme of land-betrayal on his people and resigned in a huff.
Then Kenyatta selected Daniel Arap Moi, a Tugen not drawn in the
Nandi and Kipsigis land battles, as his next loyal VP. He then
descended upon grabbing Rift Valley and Coastal land in a business
as usual and “mtafanya nini” attitude that Kibaki is trying to
Kenyatta cronies including Mbiyu Koinange, Njoroge Mungai and
others devised a clever scheme to further benefit themselves from
the land transferred from the colonialists. They formed
land-buying companies through loans which were actually funded
with tax-payer money.
At the height of land buying companies, most of the power brokers
acquired huge chunks of land at the expense of the landless, who
were meant to be the initial beneficiaries of the scheme.
According to Widner (in her book), by 1971, more than 60%
large-scale farms around Nakuru and 40% of small scale settler
farms, were held by Kikuyu, who fared very well from this
arrangement, at the expense of other Kenyan communities.
Another scholar noted that "Using the political and economic
leverage available to them during the Kenyatta regime, the Kikuyu,
took advantage of the situation and formed many land-buying
companies. These companies would, throughout the 1960s and 1970s,
facilitate the settlement of hundreds of thousands of Kikuyu in
the Rift Valley," wrote Walter Oyugi in Politicised Ethnic
Conflict in Kenya: A Periodic Phenomenon.
In 1969, Jean Marie Seroney, a leading Nandi politician and MP,
issued the Nandi Hills Declaration, laying claim to all settlement
land in the district for the Nandi. His demands went unheeded.
Aping the British, Kenyatta government used a policy of
divide-and-rule to neutralise such opposition by parcelling out
land to other ethnic groups and thus winning their allegiance.
Daniel arap Moi, the then Tugen vice-president was allocated the
settler farms of the Lembus Forest and the Essageri Salient to
divide the Tugen from the Nandi like Seroney.
PART 3: The Grabbers of the Rift Valley
Most of the power brokers in the Kenyatta regime who formed
land-buying companies established huge farms in the Rift Valley
either jointly or on their own. They included Njenga Karume, the
then Chairman of Gema Holdings, who acquired 20,000 acres in Molo
where he is growing tea, coffee, pyrethrum and potatoes and 16,000
acres in Naivasha.
GG Kariuki acquired his 5,000 acres at Rumuruti, Laikipia
Division, while former Attoney-General Charles Njonjo bought into
the 100,000 acre Solio Ranch. Don’t forget, grabbing of settler
land in Central by many colonial collaborators, at the expense of
the Mau Mau fighters, was part of the
Senior Chief Munyinge from Muiga took 400 acres. Initially, senior
chief Munyinge was allocated only 70 acres but with time he
managed to acquire 330 more acres.
Mwai Kibaki acquired 20,000 acres in Nanyuki. Former MP the late
Munene Kairu has 32,000 acres at Rumuruti.
Mr Isaiah Mathenge, the former powerful Provincial Commissioner
under Kenyatta and an MP under Moi, is arguably the largest land
owner in Nyeri municipality. He owns Seremwai Estate, which is
Kibaki’s friend, Kim Ngatende, a former government engineer, has
500 acres too. Mathenge also owns - jointly with former Provincial
Commissioner Lukas Daudi Galgalo - the 10, 000-acre Manyagalo
Ranch in Meru.
Back in Rift Valley, as Jaramogi and the rest of Kenyans were
saying, Not Yet Uhuru, it was land grabbing business as usual.
Land-buying companies were heisting big. The result was big
acquisitions, for instance, Munyeki Farm - which stands for
Murang’a, Nyeri, Kiambu - (4,000 acres), Wamuini Farm (6,000 acres),
Amuka Farm (2,000 acres), Gituaraba Farm and Githatha Farm
(1,000 acres each) and GEMA Holdings 12,000 acres. A few of them
are being utilized, today with the owners growing various crops
ranging from coffee, tea, maize and dairy keeping.
The other big farms include Chepchomo Farm (18, 000 acres), owned
by the former Provincial Commissioner Ishmael Chelang’a. The
family of the late Peter Kinyanjui, who was a close friend of
President Mwai Kibaki and a former DP Chairman in Trans Nzoia
between 1998 and 1999 owns 1,800 acres.
In Nakuru, several politically
connected individuals have acquired many acres of prime land
within the town - they include lawyer Mutula Kilonzo, who owns an
800-acre farm for dairy farming. The immediate former Auditor
General, D. G. Njoroge, owns 500 acres, while Biwott’s Canadian
son-in-law & coowner of Safaricom (Mobitelea) a Mr. Charles
Field-Marsham, boasts a 100- acre piece where he is growing roses.
D. G. Njoroge also owns the extensive Kelelwa Ranch in Koibatek,
is less than 10km from Kabarak, where he rears cattle and goats.
The 10,000 acre Gitomwa Farm - acronym for Gichuru, Tony and
Mwaura - is owned by the family of the former Kenya Power and
Lighting Company Limited (KPLC)
managing director, Samuel Gichuru. Tony and Mwaura are his sons.
Another 10,000 acre farm in Mau
Narok belongs to the family of the late Mbiyu Koinange, Kenyatta’s
side-kick and powerful minister of state in the Office of the
President. His Muthera Farm (4,000ha) is leased to different
people to grow wheat, while a group of squatters is demanding a
piece of it. The owners are yet to clear the Sh7 million
Settlement Transfer Fund loan.
Ford-People leader Simeon Nyachae’s
Kabansora Holdings owns 4,000ha in the area. Former Rongai MP
Willy Komen’s family owns 10,000 acres - 5,000ha adjacent to Moi’s
Kabarak Farm and another 4,800ha near Ngata in Njoro.
Coast Province was not spared. Kenyatta family owns almost 15% the
prime resort land in the province, besides a huge sisal plantation
spanning both Taita and Taveta districts, safely watched by his
son-in-law and former MP Marsden Madoka, and another close friend
to Uhuru Kenyatta, and current Minister in Kibaki’s Coalition
Government, Naomi Shaban.
PART 4: Kenyatta’s Land holdings
Kenya’s two former First Families and the family of President Mwai
Kibaki are among the biggest landowners in the country. The
extended Kenyatta family alone owns an estimated 500,000 acres -
approximately the size of Nyanza Province - according to estimates
by independent surveyors and Ministry of Lands officials. (This
report first appeared in the Standard Newspaper report by Mr.
The Kibaki and Moi families also own large tracts, most held in
the names of sons and daughters and other close family members,
all concentrated within the 17.2 % of Kenya that is arable or
valued. Remember that 80 per cent of all land in Kenya is mostly
arid and semi arid land.
According to the Kenya Land Alliance, more than a 65% of all
arable land in Kenya is in the hands of only 20 per cent of the 35
million Kenyans. That has left millions absolutely landless while
another 67 per cent on average own less than an acre per person.
The building land crises in the country, experts say, will be
difficult to solve because the most powerful people in the country
are also among its biggest landowners. The tracts of land under
the Kenyatta family are so widely distributed within the numerous
members in various parts of the country that it is an almost
impossible task to locate all of them and establish their exact
During Kenyatta’s 15-year tenure in State House, he used the
elaborate STFS scheme funded by the World Bank and the British
Government, to acquired large pieces of land all over the country.
Other tracts, he easily allocated to his family.
Among the best-known parcels owned by Kenyatta’s family, for
instance, are the 24, 000 acres in Taveta sub-district adjacent to
the 74, 000 acres owned by former MP Basil Criticos, whereby the
title deeds are grabbed by a bank.
Others are 50, 000 acres in Taita that is currently under Mrs Beth
Mugo, an Assistant minister of Education and niece of Kenyatta.
29, 000 acres in Kahawa Sukari along the Nairobi - Thika highway,
the 10, 000 acre Gichea Farm in Gatundu, 5, 000 acres in Thika,
9,000 acres in Kasarani and the 5,
000-acre Muthaita Farm.
These are beside others such as Brookside Farm, Green Lee Estate,
Njagu Farm in Juja, a quarry in Dandora in Nairobi and a 10,
000-acre ranch in Naivasha. There is another 200 acres in Mombasa,
and 250 acres in Malindi.
Other pieces of land owned by the
Kenyatta family include the 52,000-acre farm in Nakuru and a
20,000-acre one, also known as Gichea Farm, in Bahati under
Kenyatta’s daughter, Margaret. Besides, Mama Ngina Kenyatta, widow
of the former President, owns another 10, 000 acres in Rumuruti
while a close relative of the Kenyatta family, a Mrs Kamau, has
40,000 acres in Endebes in
the Rift Valley Province.
Uhuru owns 5,000 acres in Eldoret, 3,000 acres in Rongai and
12,000 acres in Naivasha, 100 acres in Karen, and 200 acres in
Dagoretti. A 1,000-acre farm in Dagoretti is owned by Kenyatta’s
first wife Wahu.
It is also understood that part of the land on which Kenyatta and
Jomo Kenyatta Universities are constructed initially belonged the
Criticos family. The government bought the land from him in 1972
under the Settlement Transfer Fund Scheme and transferred to the
Kenyatta family the same day
Criticos sold it to the government. Land for the two universities
was subsequently sold partly and a portion donated by the family.
PART 5: Kibaki’s and Moi’s Land Grabbing
One of President Kibaki’s earliest grabs is the 1,200-acre
Gingalily Farm along the Nakuru-Solai road. And in the 1970s,
Kibaki, who was then the minister for Finance under Kenyatta, via
STFS transferred to himself, 10,000 acres in Bahati from the then
Agriculture minister Bruce Mckenzie.
Kibaki also owns another 10,000 acres at Igwamiti in Laikipia and
10,000 acres in Rumuruti in Naivasha. These are in addition to the
1,600 acre Ruare Ranch.
Just next to Kibaki’s Bahati land are Moi’s 20,000 acres although
his best known piece of land is the 1,600 Kabarak Farm on which he
has retired. It is one of the most well utilised farms in the area,
with wheat, maize and dairy cattle.
The former President owns another 20,000 acres in Olenguruoni in
Rift Valley, on which he is growing tea and has also built the
Kiptakich Tea Factory (torched early 2008 Post election violence).
He also has some 20, 000 acres in Molo. He also has another 3,
000-acre farm in Bahati on both sides of the Nakuru/Nyahururu road
where he grows coffee and some 400 acres in Nakuru on which he was
initially growing coffee.
The former President also owns the controversy ridden 50, 000 acre
Ol Pajeta Farm - part of which has Ol Pajeta ranch in Rumuruti,
Laikipia. Some time in 2004, Moi put out an advert in the press
warning the public that some unknown people were sub-dividing and
Can solutions be found to address these land problems?
This is clearly a socio-political problem that requires a
political solution. It involves digging up the archives,
consulting experts, policy makers, local politicians and community
elders to find a comprehensive solution.
Such formulated blueprints can then be sold to Kenyans of all
creed, race, religion and ethnicity in a publicity campaign that
seeks to draw in as many supporters as possible. A responsive
political party genuinely keen to tackle this tough problem can
actually sell a comprehensive and just land reform
policy as part of its manifesto.
These must be cognizant of the constitutional implications
concerned in addressing past and present land issues.
What we are witnessing in Rift Valley may just escalate to new
heights considering the fundamental weight of the underlying blood
and soil issue of land.