Clear link between land dispossession during colonial era and poverty among nomadic groups
|Photo © Imani Media Ltd
| We Africans, we are the ones with the right to claim for the land…it is our land and it belongs to us.
Francis Asike, Spokesperson for the Lekiji Community
The seizure of prime land in Kenya by white settlers taken during the colonial era and the land grabbing which occurred post independence by powerful black elites are responsible for abject poverty among indigenous and nomadic communities in Kenya today.
The story of the poverty caused by land dispossession, abuse of local workers by ranch owners, harassment, intimidation and other human rights violations are told in a new documentary called Stolen Heritage: Land, Poverty and the Legacy of British Colonial Rule in Kenya, released by human rights organization Imani Development Ltd.
Millions of acres of prime land was seized in Kenya during the colonial era and sold to white settlers for next to nothing. Most of the land in the Lakipia District, an area of about 2.5 million acres once belonged to the Maasai. The name Lakipia is in fact the name of a Maasai clan.
During the colonial war in the 1950s when many black Africans resisted colonial oppression, aside from the well-publicised Mau Mau resistance, the Maasai also fought vigorously to preserve their way of life and when other ethnic groups were recruited to fight on the side of the British, many of them found themselves fighting against powerful Maasai warriors.
Many Maasai also fled to southern parts of Kenya to avoid British aggression and to avoid paying taxes that the British colonial administration imposed to fund the expansion of the white colonies. Today, of the 1 million Maasai that used to occupy the Lakipia Plateau, around 30,000 remain in the region. However, 65 per cent of the land that once belonged to the Maasai is today still occupied by whites, 44 years after independence.
Confined to small arid areas, the Maasai have insufficient land for grazing and are deprived of their pastoralist way of life. They are forced to work for very low wages – in some instances less than 50 pence per day, doing menial labour on ranches, some of which run wildlife safaris, flower farms and so-called ‘conservation’ units. Conditions inside the ranches are extremely poor with mainly men confined to small living spaces with no toilet facilities and separated from their families who are not allowed inside the ranches which are bordered by electric fences.
Lekiji communtiy vow to fight to remain on their land
|These Maasai women are paid less than 50 pence a day for cutting grass around electric fences bordering a ranch owned by settlers. Photo © Imani Media Ltd
| The poverty experienced by nomadic communities in Kenya, particularly the Maasai, is a direct result of the colonial legacy.
Mali Ntanare Ole Kaunga, Director of IMPACT
Mali Ntanare Ole Kaunga, Director of IMPACT, an African trust featured in the documentary and joint partner in its production said: “The poverty experienced by nomadic communities in Kenya, particularly the Maasai, is a direct result of the colonial legacy.”
The issue of human rights and the plight of indigenous communities in Kenya was documented in a detailed report in December 2006 by the United Nations Special Rapporteur. However, the Kenyan government refuses even to acknowledge the status of many ethnic groups as being indigenous peoples.
Fatuma, Ibrahim Ali, Vice Chair of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights said that the Kenyan government had failed to address the issue of land dispossession. The organization produced a publication last December called: Unjust Enrichment: The Making of Land Grabbing Millionaires and is keen to see reparations instituted, but said that the Kenyan government is avoiding the issue.
One of the communities featured in the documentary are the Lekiji community, a mixed community of around 600 Maasai, Kikuyu, Samburu, Rendille, Turkanas and Somalis, who but for the threats and harassment they are receiving from owners of the nearby ranch, would be a peaceful community.
“The owners of the ranch are trying to chase us away…they are using money to harass us,” said Francis Asike, community spokesperson. The Lekiji community are seeking international support to help pay legal costs as they have in their possession a document proving that the land was given to them by a previous owner of the Segera ranch.
“We Africans, we are the ones with the right to claim for the land…it is our land and it belongs to us,” he said.