Land for loyalty?
Darren Taylor, Nairobi
31 October 2005 07:59
|Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki
has allocated thousands of title deeds for land in a move his
opponents say is an attempt to “bribe” voters to support a
controversial draft constitution in a November 21 referendum.
Environmentalists charge that the “illegal dishing out of land”
spells “ecological disaster” for a country lauded internationally
for its stringent legislation to protect wildlife.
The poll is regarded as the biggest test yet of Kibaki’s leadership
-- now in its third year following Kenyans’ rejection in 2002 of
Daniel arap Moi’s 25-year autocratic rule. The run-up, though, has
been marred by violence, with supporters of the “yes” and “no”
camps clashing frequently.
A Samburu herdsman in the Rift
Valley. How will he vote? (Photograph: AP)
Kibaki has urged voters to support
the draft, which he says is “liberal” with clauses empowering women and
guaranteeing freedom of information. But his critics claim an affirmation of
the document will open the door for renewed dictatorship.
The draft grants sweeping executive powers to the president. The issue has
split the country and its ruling National Rainbow Coalition government along
Kibaki recently granted thousands of title deeds to landless ethnic groups in
the Rift Valley, a region perceived as remaining loyal to Moi and distrustful
of Kibaki’s Kikuyu elite, the ethnic majority in Kenya. Moi has encouraged
Kenyans to oppose the draft constitution. Rift Valley contains the highest
concentration, 2,4-million, of the 11,5-million registered voters.
Kibaki ignored a court order aimed at preventing him from allocating land and
distributed 12 000 title deeds to the Ogiek tribe. He also announced the
“resettlement” of the Mau Forest. In April, he faced criticism when he
ordered the police and army to forcibly remove 10 000 people, mainly from the
Kalenjin ethnic group, from the area.
Security forces assaulted inhabitants and razed property. The government said
the action was justified because the Kalenjin were destroying one of the
country’s last-surviving natural forests. But the tribe regarded it as proof
of “victimisation” for their continued allegiance to Moi, himself a
A campaign against Kibaki flared in the Rift Valley. Land Minister Amos
Kimunya, one of Kibaki’s key allies, defied another court order to remove
thousands of people who had settled illegally on Rift Valley ranches. He told
squatters gathered on one such farm: “The government will not execute the
court ruling. You’d better start cultivating the farm.”
In another decision, Kibaki ceded control of the world-famous Amboseli
National Park, with its spectacular views of Kilimanjaro and an elephant herd
that is subject to intensive study by international researchers, to a group of
local Maasai. Maasai leaders, including MPs and a Cabinet minister, have
advised their ethnic kin to vote against the draft constitution.
Kibaki has also announced his intention to give land to communities in Coast
Province, where Islam is the dominant religion. Muslim leaders have been
encouraging a “no” vote.
Ironically, both Moi and Kenya’s founding president, Jomo Kenyatta, used
land gifts to entrench their power. But Kibaki has insisted that “every
Kenyan has the right to own land” and that, rather than “bribing” voters,
he is correcting “historical injustices”.
Politicking aside, conservationists warn that the land allocations will have
“serious and negative consequences” for Kenya, globally renowned for its
efforts to combat poaching. Since Moi’s “war” on poachers in the 1980s,
wildlife numbers have grown significantly and near-extinct ecosystems have
rebounded. All this, say environmentalists, is in danger of being sacrificed
on the altar of political expediency as Kibaki seeks to cling to power.
Kibaki’s sudden desire to grant title deeds has sparked demands for land
across the country from ethnic groups who claim to have been dispossessed.
Martin Ngatia, who leads a group opposed to Kibaki, predicted: “The
president has started to roll a wheel he will not be able to control.”