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Violence fears as groups row over land in Nakuru County

By - By KARANJA NJOROGE | August 3rd 2013


KENYA: The violence witnessed at Narasha, Naivasha, after a prayer meeting for evicted families that turned chaotic last week has brought to the fore simmering tension on land in Nakuru County.

Pictures of a frightened Rift Valley Regional Co-ordinator Osman Warfa fleeing from a charged mob at the disputed farm remain etched in the minds of many.

The incident happened after an army of youths descended on the sleepy village and torched houses in a bid to displace families.

But this is not the first land clash in Nakuru County.

When communities in Kuresoi and Molo are not torching each other’s houses, those in Likia and Maiella are slashing their neighbours with machetes.

The Narasha land row that pits the Kikuyu and Maasai communities has festered for over 30 years and claimed more than 100 lives.

At the centre of the current dispute is a piece of land that was part of 16,000 acres belonging to Ng’ati Farmers Co-operative Society.

But following a protracted court battle, the High Court in Nakuru ordered that the Co-operative Society take 12,000 acres, with the Maasai community being allocated the remaining 4,000 acres.

The farmers, after the conclusion of the court case, decided to sell 3,000 of the land to Kengen for the exploration and development of geothermal energy.

But another group of the Maasai community residing in the piece of land has laid claim on the land and refused to move.

Have documents

The communities went to court in 1996, both claiming ownership of the fertile land with high potential for geothermal energy.

The case dragged on in the corridors of justice until 2000 when the Nakuru High Court made a ruling allocating the pastoralist part of the land with the bigger portion going to the farmers.

Following an appeal lodged in the Court of Appeal, a ruling was delivered on the July 23, 2009, giving the Kikuyu under Ng’ati Farmers 12,131 acres and their Maasai neighbours 4,207 acres.

Ng’ati Farmers Co-operative Society chairman Patrick Karanja says they have the necessary documents to prove that the disputed land belongs to them.

“We agreed to comply with the court order that ordered us to give them 4,207 acres, but they have now changed goal posts and want more land. If they do not want the piece we gave then they should return it,” Karanja told the Standard on Saturday.

But a local Maasai leader Radoine Nkamasiai said they could not be denied the right to claim ownership of the piece of land just because they do not have the documents.

Nkamasiai said the community has for generations been oppressed and their rights trampled upon by successive governments. “Those claiming the land do not even have homes here while we have resided here since we were born,” Nkamasiai said referring to Ng’ati farmers.

The row has again thrust Nakuru County into another land-related conflict cycle, with fears that it could degenerate into a bloody ethnic conflict.

The truce arrived at by the two communities appears short-lived following the recent events.

As was evident from the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) public hearings in Nakuru that land remains the most emotive subject in the county.  

British government

The proceedings were dominated by communities seeking redress over historical land injustices dating back hundreds of years.

Participants said clashes over land use and ownership have been fuelled by politicians since the restoration of multiparty democracy.

But land analysts say the roots of the Rift Valley land rows lie with the colonialists, post-Independence land policies and the tendency for all things political to be viewed through the lens of ethnicity.

During the colonial times, vast arable tracts of land in Nakuru and other areas in Rift Valley were designated as white highlands leading to displacement of mainly pastoralist communities.

At independence, many settlers decided to return to Britain and the independence government opted to buy land from those who were willing to sell using a loan from the British government. The land was then sold to Kenyans.

The move opened the wave of settlements in the region by people especially from Central, which has been blamed for sporadic inter-ethnic conflicts in Rift Valley.      

“The people from Central used their economical and political advantage during the Kenyatta regime to form land-buying companies and own huge tracts of land in Rift Valley,” a land officer in Nakuru said.        

Communities, which owned the land before Independence, term the failure to have the land revert back to them the core historical injustice.  

The region’s earlier pastoralist inhabitants, such as the Maasai and the Kalenjin have been the most vocal on the issue.

Other communities, which have been protesting over land injustices in the region include the Ogiek and the Endorois.

Shot by gunman

The Maasai community has already filed a case in the High Court seeking to have thousands of acres of land, which they claim was illegally taken away from them, revert to the community.

In 2011, the community successfully blocked Government efforts to resettle the displaced families at the 4,200-acre Rose Farm in Mau Narok.

The land had been bought from a white wheat farmer for the resettlement exercise, but the community claimed it was part of their ancestral land.

Most of the vast land the community is targeting is found in the fertile and scenic areas of Mau Narok, which borders Narok District.

Narok East MP Lemanken Aramat says the Jubilee Government should address and find a lasting solution to the land issue.

“The Jubilee Government should seek a solution to the land issue while in power for the sake of peaceful co-existence of residents,” the MP says

According to the legislator, the conflict in Narasha is more about the scramble to control resources, especially in the area with great geothermal potential.

“The area has a lot of geothermal potential and both communities are fighting to control it and that is why the Government needs to address the issue once and for all,” the MP said.

The Maasai claim corrupt political patronage allowed Cabinet ministers and other influential personalities to acquire public or common land in the county some of which had been used for generations by pastoralist communities.

Two years ago, a leading crusader to have the land revert to the community was shot dead in Nakuru by a gunman riding on a motorcycle.

The murder of Moses ole Mpoe, who was vocal in agitating for the community’s land rights, sparked anger from the members of the community who held demonstrations to condemn the killing.

“We have been given a raw deal by successive governments. Now that we have a new Constitution the community wants their land back,” said Mr Jackson ole Sencho.  

The Community argues the British colonial government forcefully evicted them from their ancestral land and allocated it to European settlers for farming.

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