Invasion of Northlands estate raises key economic questions

Some of the intruders who invaded former President Uhuru Kenyatta's Northlands Family farm located along the Eastern Bypass on March 27, 2023. [Silas Otieno, Standard]

My childhood was about grazing on the escarpment overlooking the Rift Valley and its myriad lakes. Sheep was my favourite, mostly corriedale and a few merinos.

If we got an important visitor, a sheep easily lost its life. Today that is rare. The economic reality demands you put such a sheep into better use. But you still can try visiting me...

When I saw sheep being carted away at Northlands near Ruiru,my memory of this golden age of my life was rekindled. A childhood without worries, wide open spaces to graze, play and living with nature as it was on creation day.

Eating wild fruits, drinking water directly from the river, hunting rabbits, running in the rain, admiring stars at night or listening to hyraxes at night. We had no TV or radio, nature provided entertainment. Contrast that with life in the city constrained in all ways, and believing that's heroism.

How would I have felt if someone took my parents' sheep away as I watched? Knowing so well what it took to rear them? This episode is more than meets the eye despite attempts to downgrade it. It's more than sheep and trees. Why?

One, it left no doubt that anarchy is never far away, it just needs instigators. Peace is more more fragile than we think. Let's guard it.

Two, and that left my head spinning, what was the objective of this hair-raising episode? Was it to threaten, instill fear or leave us asking who is next? No economy can thrive under the long shadow of fear.

Three is how some politicians from the same region are openly attacking one of their own. That has historical precedence and consequences. The verbal attackers are either too young or too naive; let them read history, not watch movies.

Four, the truth about this episode will remain convoluted but expect it to emerge in future. Most of the iceberg is under the water and that's what makes it dangerous. Remember the sinking of the Titanic?

Five, and more important, is that the true human nature emerged. That we envy our neighbors despite our religiousness. An old joke is based on a question; what should happen to your neighbour's goat; give birth to another goat or die? Which one would you choose?

Six, Mau Mau was evoked in the Northlands invasion. That was the smoking gun. In central region, Mau Mau is a sacred topic. It was about land and freedom and less talked about, humbling the British empire.

By invoking Mau Mau, someone was very adept; he was exploiting the historical grievances in this region that pitted those who collaborated with the rulers ( Britons ) against those who went to the forest, the freedom fighters.

After independence that chasm persisted but has been attenuated by time. Both sides have even intermarried. Why would someone want it back? Who would benefit from such division? History is a giant dustbin and a dangerous one. You could find precious items in it or snakes to bite you.

Seven, and worrying, is our economic thinking - that we can get free things. We even say we are lucky! That thinking was exploited to cart away sheep and has been used in entrenching betting. How did a father explain to his children the sudden availability of delicious meat?

Free things drive corruption. We try and justify ourselves by asking, "how did he or she get what he or she has?" But we rarely ask them.

Eight is that despite 60 years of independence we have not digested what's capitalism. We have argued repeatedly it's not about money, it's about our welfare. As you pursue your interests, you better the society.

It's obvious some people will be endowed more than others and do better. Tax equates us, ensuring that those who have share with less fortunate. If a country has a good tax system, it's easy to sort out our inequality. Despite owners of big firms making huge profits, the workers benefit from jobs and other amenities; we assume capitalism has a human face.

Nine, why do we believe that any empty land must be build up? Why do we define wealth so much in terms of land, which is finite? What will happen when all the land is shared out?

One would ask in whispers why there is so much focus on Northlands, yet there are other huge pieces of land elsewhere in the country, more productive and strategically located. How should the rest of investors in Kenya react?

Ten is why we want to set the rich against the poor. Why do we want a class conflict? You definitely have a rich neighbour, brother or sister. Should we not be bold enough to separate politics and economics, until the economy is out of the doldrums? Did I see our GDP growth rate being revised downwards?

Finally, back to my childhood. Power saws left the once indigenous forests desolate.Rivers then started drying up. Earlier this month, I visited the escarpment that was my childhood playground. The lake I admired is gone, rain could give it a new life. Planes took off and landed nearby to spray wheat. They no longer do that.

The river where I drank water directly and swam is now a trickle and seasonal. Want to know where that was? Give me a call.

Maybe Roger Whittaker was right, the most destructive creature is man. Listen to his song " My land is Kenya " which should become the unofficial anthem.