Civic leaders 'pushed landless peasants, women to buy land'

The process of purchasing European farms formed the foundation of small-scale agriculture. [iStockphoto]

When Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first President, made the decision to send 26-year-old Kanu secretary Geoffrey Gitahi Kariuki (GG) to Denmark's Ahus University College to study Co-operative Movement Management, he faced unexpected opposition.

At that time, GG held the position of Laikipia Kanu branch secretary. The opposition to Kenyatta's idea came from another young party official, Mwai Kibaki, who believed GG should instead run for the Laikipia parliamentary seat on the Kanu ticket.

Kenyatta held the belief that the cooperative movement was a crucial tool in transforming the economic prospects of the predominantly rural peasantry masses. GG, now deceased, perfectly fit the profile of the youth that the President wished to train to lead the organisation of rural subsistence traditional producers into successful commercial production units.

GG's absence would result in the loss of the Laikipia seat to Kanu's rival candidate from Kadu.

These particular moments have been documented in a social science research journal article written by Ruth Nyambura, a researcher at the Department of Philosophy, History, and Religious Studies at Egerton University.

"Kenyatta had suggested that GG should go to Ahus University College to study cooperative management. However, Kibaki convinced Kenyatta to allow GG to remain if Kanu intended to secure the Laikipia parliamentary seat in the upcoming general elections," writes Nyambura.

The article, published in the Journal of International Academic Research for Multidisciplinary documents the role GG, and his post-Independence cohort of leaders played in mobilising impoverished natives into cooperatives and land-buying companies to buy out European settler farms in Laikipia.

During an inaugural meeting in 1970, the aim was to convince villagers to invest in shares of the Laikipia West Land Buying Company. This initiative was intended to facilitate the purchase of land from departing Europeans. It was during this meeting that GG delivered a compelling and impactful speech.

"Kenyatta alone cannot provide everything. What happens when he is gone? Perhaps, when he is no longer with us, we will realise his greatest service was bringing Kenya to a point where we no longer relied solely on him."

These narratives were shared during the memorial service held for Wahome Gichachi, a longstanding councilor of the Marmarnet Ward and two-term chairman of the Laikipia County Council. The service took place in Muthengera village over the weekend.

Gichachi's generation of civic leaders played a crucial role in mobilising their communities and resources, laying the foundations for what would eventually become Laikipia County. The process of purchasing European farms and settling thousands of previously landless peasants formed the foundation of small-scale agriculture, which now serves as the economic backbone of Laikipia county.

"The company actively recruited a large number of women to join and become shareholders, resulting in many of them becoming landowners. Each member was required to contribute Sh1,720 to acquire a five-acre plot." Through the establishment of the Laikipia West Land Buying Company, former European colonial settler farms were transformed into settlement blocks that are known today by names such as Gateero, Ndururumo, Marmanet, Sipili, Muthengera, and others.

As these areas developed, townships emerged with the same names, accompanied by schools, healthcare facilities, and various amenities.

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