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SEE NO EVIL: How international election observers lost credibility during the August elections



The peeping game
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The August 8, 2017 Kenyan presidential election, which was invalidated and nullified by the Supreme Court of Kenya on September 1, 2017, not only led to a flurry of hastily cobbled up contrite statements by international observer missions and some Western-based media houses, but also opened up a Pandora’s box that critically questioned the role of international observer missions.

The election, which pitted for the second-time President Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta against Raila Amolo Odinga, was declared “null and void” by Chief Justice David Maraga on account of electronic and technological malpractices. A fresh election is slated for October 17, 2017.

Just two days after the voting had ended, the international observer missions that had come to monitor the elections had already written their preliminary reports certifying the general election as largely free, fair and peaceful. About 400 international observers had been deployed to watch the polls.

The missions included, among others, the African Union (AU), led by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, the Carter Center, whose chief election observer was John Kerry, the former US secretary of state who lost the 2004 US presidential election to George W. Bush, and the European Commission (EU), under the leadership of the Dutch politician Marietje Schaake.

While the EU observer mission, in its preliminary report, did cite problems to do with the lack of preparedness within the electoral process, the lack of applicable campaign finance legislation and unreliable transmission, it was only after the Supreme Court ruling that the EU and other missions realised that they had completely missed the mark – they were forced to concede that there were massive electoral malpractices in the electronic transmission of the results.

Kerry, who had certified the elections as “free, fair and credible” despite “little aberrations here and there”, even felt the need to expiate his “sins of omission” in a New York Times op-ed article on September 14, 2017. The long and short of his opinion was to shift the blame to the media – local and international – by subtly accusing them of misquoting what the international observers had meant by “free, fair and credible elections.”

Schaake, the EU’s chief election observer was later quoted saying: “At times, expectations of us observers are greater than our mandate allows us to do. Kenya’s electoral process relied heavily on technology and observers did not have access to the backend of the system.”

Caught completely unaware by the Supreme Court judgement, Schaake beat a hasty retreat by justifying and mitigating the ineptitude of the international observers. So did the Carter Center, which said that it would reevaluate its observer mission to Kenya and find out from Kerry exactly what had transpired within the team that he had led.

Characteristically, the AU mission has kept a studious silence: It has not said anything about the nullification of the presidential election, nor has it explained the rationale behind the mission’s certification of the election as successful.

It used to be said that the precursor to the AU, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), was a presidents’ club, where one of the unwritten rules was never to interfere with the “internal affairs” of a brother president’s country. It seems to me that that rule has never been done away with, even after the OAU was baptised the AU, insofar as election observation by the AU is concerned.

Removing “egg on the face”

After more soul-searching and hoping to erase “egg on the face”, on September 14, 2017 Schaake seemingly talked tough and called for “thorough investigations of alleged electoral offences in order to promote representations where warranted, including of IEBC [Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission] staff. There have to date not been any investigations against senior public officers who have reportedly breached the law.”

Harping on the theme of accountability and thorough investigations, Schaake said that “fast, comprehensive and effective investigations are needed so that there is individual accountability for actions taken.” Seemingly striking an impartial balance, she mildly criticised both the Jubilee and Nasa coalitions for their “apparent insubordination” of the IEBC and the Judiciary after the Supreme Court ruling. “Since the elections, Nasa and Jubilee have at times been undermining the IEBC and the Judiciary respectively.”

After the Supreme Court judgement, the New York Times was forced to reconsider its earlier position. An editorial published on September 3, 2017 stated: “The ruling was a rebuke to international monitors and diplomats – and this page – who were too quick to dismiss charges of irregularities, largely out of relief that the August 8 voting had been mainly peaceful and in the hope that disappointment with the results would not lead to the sort of violence that had erupted after the disputed 2007 election, in which hundreds of people were killed.”

Kerry, who had certified the elections as “free, fair and credible” despite “little aberrations here and there”, even felt the need to expiate his “sins of omission” in a New York Times op-ed article on September 14, 2017. The long and short of his opinion was to shift the blame to the media – local and international – by subtly accusing them of misquoting what the international observers had meant by “free, fair and credible elections.”

“Multiple media reports suggested inaccurately that we and other international observers had declared the election free and fair,” wrote Kerry. “Although our observers had noted isolated instances of procedural irregularities in voting and counting, these did not appear to affect the integrity of those processes which had functioned smoothly.”

Kerry, like every politician, had no qualms about speaking from both sides of his mouth. He shifted blame and made sure he was not “caught with his pants down”. So he unabashedly wrote, “The court ruling didn’t contradict the reports of the Carter Center, whose team we led, or those of other observer missions, including the European Union and the African Union, whose findings were broadly similar.”

Not to be left out during confession time was the United States embassy in Nairobi. US ambassador Robert F. Godec and the heads of other diplomatic missions issued a statement on September 7, 2017 clarifying their unconsidered judgement on the August 8, 2017 elections. “The court’s decision was a strong call to everyone, including the international community, to reflect on how to make each election better than the last,” said Godec. “As partners, we are doing so and we are ready to assist again.” Sounding somewhat apologetic, Godec, on behalf of other Western countries’ diplomats accredited to Nairobi, hoped to justify their hasty verdict on the election by saying, “Some of our missions have been the subject of fake stories and false attacks in this election period.”

Godec made the point that “our electoral assistance was requested by the government of Kenya and conformed at all times with the Kenyan law.” The US ambassador issued the statement on behalf of 12 diplomatic missions: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The New York Times, one of the most influential newspapers in the world, equally reconsidered its earlier endorsement of Uhuru Kenyatta as the winner of the election after the Supreme Court ordered a fresh presidential poll. In an editorial praising the 8 August election, the New York Times had stated: “Raila Odinga, a perennial loser, began crying foul long before the election commission declared that President Uhuru Kenyatta was elected with 54 percent of the vote to Mr. Odinga’s 45. International monitors from the African Union, the United States and Europe said they witnessed no foul play; former United States secretary of state John Kerry, co-leader of the Carter Center’s mission of election observers, praised Kenya’s election commission for its transparency and diligence.”

After the Supreme Court judgement, the New York Times was forced to reconsider its earlier position. An editorial published on September 3, 2017 stated: “The ruling was a rebuke to international monitors and diplomats – and this page – who were too quick to dismiss charges of irregularities, largely out of relief that the August 8 voting had been mainly peaceful and in the hope that disappointment with the results would not lead to the sort of violence that had erupted after the disputed 2007 election, in which hundreds of people were killed.”

Journalist Sarah Jerving, writing on September 8, 2017 for Devex.Com argued, “The perceived mismatch between the court ruling and international observers’ initial observations has sparked a debate about how such missions operate and what role they play in codifying elections. In Kenya, that discussion is complicated by a history of election violence linked to irregularities.”

The newspaper, realising the folly of its earlier hasty editorial endorsing the electoral process, added, “The fears were real, but the rush to judgment overlooked, among other things, that the supervisor of a new electronic voting system, Christopher Chege Msando, had been murdered and apparently tortured days before the election.”

The Financial Times, like the New York Times, seized the moment to comment on the Supreme Court’s unprecedented judgement, proclaiming the ruling as “the first of its kind in Africa.” Moralising on African dictatorial regimes, the paper declared on September 3, 2017: “The many regimes across the continent who exploit incumbency to perpetuate their rule through patronage, oppression and manipulation of the vote have been put on notice. So too have those international election observers whose formulaic rubber stamping of the results has become increasingly insidious – notably in undermining their own credibility, but also spreading cynicism among the electorate.”

Revisiting the violence that visited Kenya after the bungled election of December 2007, the Financial Times called out the international election observers who seem to be more obsessed with “peace” and “stability” rather than accountability and credibility. “Since 2007, when Kenya went to the brink of civil war in the wake of polls marred by fraud, there has been a tendency among such observers to brush aside all manner of irregularities in the interest of preserving peace.”

Amidst the international election observers “falling over each other” to quickly correct the impression that they had declared the August 8, 2017 elections as credible, one local observer organisation has stood its ground – insisting that the general election was “free and fair”, the Supreme Court’s ruling notwithstanding. The Elections Observation Group (ELOG) has maintained that Uhuru Kenyatta won the election fair and square. On September 4, 2017, Regina Opondo, the chairperson of ELOG’s steering committee (which includes Bishop Alfred Rotich of the Catholic Church) reiterated that Uhuru had won the presidential vote even though Supreme Court had found the process wanting. She said that the observer mission had deployed about 1,700 monitors and more than 5,000 (stationary) observers whose major responsibility was to focus on the results transmission. Her point of departure was that different observer missions had different methodologies which they used to ascertain whether the election had been conducted properly or not.

Journalist Sarah Jerving, writing on September 8, 2017 for Devex.Com, argued, “The perceived mismatch between the court ruling and international observers’ initial observations has sparked a debate about how such missions operate and what role they play in codifying elections. In Kenya, that discussion is complicated by a history of election violence linked to irregularities.” She particularly noted, “Clashes erupted after international observers highlighted irregularities in the 2007 elections, leaving more than 1,300 people dead and 600,000 displaced. Yet, the question now is whether observers have swung too far in the other direction, holding the bar for election too low, examining the wrong components on the side of caution to avoid unrest.”

Jerving poses the question of “whether election monitoring needs a rethink worldwide, particularly as electoral processes digitise, adding that “international observers focused too heavily on the voting process, overlooking critical next steps such as the transmission of the results, which in Kenya’s case was done digitally and with little transparency.”

A short history of election observer missions in Kenya

Election observer missions first became a major feature in Kenyan elections in 1992 after the country returned to multiparty politics in 1991, when former President Daniel arap Moi reluctantly repealed section 2A of the old Lancaster House Constitution. Western countries, led by the United States, spearheaded the multiparty wave in Africa and were particularly keen to witness political change in Kenya.

When Moi called the elections on December 29, 1992, they instantly flew in about 200 international observers These poll watchers were augmented by between 7,000 and 10,000 local monitors who organised themselves under the auspices of the National Election Monitoring Unit (NEMU). NEMU consisted of, among others, the International Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA-Kenya), Professional Committee for Democratic Change (PCDC), the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ-Kenya), the National Ecumenical Civic Education Programme (NECEP), the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK) and the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC).

With the prospect of facing a sustained serious opposition for the first time, President Moi’s Kanu ancien regime provoked ethnic clashes in the vast Rift Valley Province, especially in the North Rift, where many migrant Kikuyus had lived for many years. These clashes, ostensibly instigated by Kalenjin Kanu party mandarins, led to the death of 1,500 Kenyans and the displacement of 300,000 others, many of whom were Kikuyus living in the Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia districts.

Nobert Braakhuis, a political scientist way back in 1997 would write that oftentimes election observation is usually confined to elections themselves and perhaps a few days just before elections. In his essay “International Election Observation During the 1997 Kenya Elections” published in Out for the Count: The 1997 General Elections and the Prospects for Democracy in Kenya, and edited by Marcel Rutten, Alamin Mazrui and Francois Grignon, Braakhuis noted that “election observation ignores the broader political context and long-term process of which elections form part.”

The international observers accredited to monitor the 1992 general elections, according to Braakhuis, “came on the eve of the elections and once the election was over flew out the same day.” These international monitors were largely drawn from the Commonwealth, the Washington-based International Republican Institute (IRI), Denmark, Egypt, Germany, Japan and Switzerland.

Out of the 7,000 polling stations, the international observers visited only a few stations, and because they came on the eve of polling day, they could not capture any of the irregularities that obviously biased the election results. NEMU, which was funded by Western donor agencies, including the US Agency for International Development (USAID), the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Royal Netherlands Embassy, may have captured many of these irregularities, but did not have the international gravitas to broadcast Moi’s underhand tactics.

The then electoral malpractices included Moi’s regime ordering the police to disrupt opposition rallies and meetings, which made it extremely difficult for opposition politicians to register as candidates. Other malpractices included the use of state instruments of violence, namely, the police, the paramilitary General Service Unit (GSU) and even organised militia, to brutalise opposition figures.

Moi had a whole load of tricks up his sleeve, which ensured that the fledgling opposition was disorganised and scattered. He exclusively “zoned off” certain areas that he claimed were Kanu areas, and the opposition was refused access to these areas. In short, the opposition went to the 1992 general election on a very uneven field.

With the prospect of facing a sustained serious opposition for the first time, President Moi’s Kanu ancien regime provoked ethnic clashes in the vast Rift Valley Province, especially in the North Rift, where many migrant Kikuyus had lived for many years. These clashes, ostensibly instigated by Kalenjin Kanu party mandarins, led to the death of 1,500 Kenyans and the displacement of 300,000 others, many of whom were Kikuyus living in the Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia districts.

Apart from these “tribal clashes”, Moi’s government also harassed the media so much that news organisations were afraid of reporting Kanu’s political excesses. In the lead-up to the 1992 elections, there was only one national radio broadcasting station, the state-owned Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC), which could not broadcast news about the opposition’, let alone reports about the orchestrated killings of one ethnic community in the Rift Valley.

With all these disadvantages poised against a fragile and nascent opposition, “national and international observers, embassies and the like, were simply not prepared to oppose the salami tactics that increasingly reduced the chances of the opposition to win the elections by introducing uneven electoral conditions,” wrote Braakhuis.

Many keen observers of the 1992 multiparty general election noted that the international observers had been to Kenya on “election tourism”, suggesting that they were in the country to have a good time rather than to monitor an election. The “election tourism” tag also alluded to the fact that the various international observer missions’ reports were done in haste and without collating the different missions’ assessments.

Given the way that local and international observers had handled the elections – ignoring talk about the clashes and Moi’s gagging of the press – “the international observers came in for serious criticism,” said Braakhuis. The result of this “see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil” attitude of the international observers was aptly captured by Africa Confidential magazine in 1993 when it wrote: “Neither the foreign nor the local observer groups had the capacity and resources to comprehensively investigate rigging allegations. Consequently, they reported the most blatant and easily verifiable irregularities.”

Many keen observers of the 1992 multiparty general election noted that the international observers had been to Kenya on “election tourism”, suggesting that they were in the country to have a good time rather than to monitor an election. The “election tourism” tag also alluded to the fact that the various international observer missions’ reports were done in haste and without collating the different missions’ assessments.

When the post-election evaluation was done, it was evident that the international observation had been an exercise in futility and that the observer missions had lost their credibility. The missions had totally failed to capture electoral malpractices. This fiasco put the Western world on the spotlight. So, by early 1997, during the second cycle of the multiparty elections, they were already thinking of crafting a new model.

The new model that the international observers envisaged was one that would allow for a comprehensive and in-depth observation of the electoral process that was not limited to a one-day affair. The new model would also enable the observers to stay in the country a while longer, gaining experience and long-term perspective. This would equally allow them to understand the political terrain, including identifying possible tricky manipulations of the electoral process.

Western countries, through their respective embassies, formed the Donor for Development and Democracy Group (DDDG) in 1997 (which was re-named the Democracy Development Group (DDG) the following year). One of the first things DDDG did was to form the Election Observation Centre (EOC), whose members were drawn from diplomatic missions and international experts recommended by DDDG.

The DDDG consisted of 22 diplomatic missions with representation at the European Commission. They were: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom and the United States.

The EOC was composed of four coordinators – Dr Judith Geist, (USAID), Prof. Palle Svensson (Denmark – Aarhus University), Dr. David Throup (British Foreign Office) and Dr. Marcel Rutten (The Netherlands).Nonetheless, there was a caveat as to what precisely the EOU would engage in. The EOU was supposed to refrain from making public or press statements and from having any external contacts, except through its president. Canada was in charge of the presidency.

The EOU’s mandate was basically divided into six clear-cut operations:

  1. Registration of voters (which was conducted between May 19 and June 30, 1997)
  2. Designation of candidates within the political parties’ nominations (which took place between late November and early December, 1997)
  3. Official nominations (presidential: December 2–3, councillors and parliamentary: December 8–9, 1997)
  4. Campaign period
  5. Election day, including vote counting (December 29)
  6. Election aftermath

To be better prepared this time, DDDG began having its own meetings as early as May 1997. The move was certainly encouraged by the hastily convened Inter-Parties Parliamentary Group (IPPG) reforms, which somewhat hoped to level the playing field as the country geared towards the December elections. IPPG had been necessitated by the events of the Saba Saba Day (July 7, 1997) and Nane Nane Day (August 8, 1997), during which the police had unleashed unmitigated violence on opposition supporters. With the support of Western countries, they too had pressurised the Kanu government to implement minimalist reforms.

The local observer group for 1997 elections included the Institute for Education in Democracy (IED), Catholic, Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC) and the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK). Together, they deployed about 27,000 poll watchers. This meant that there were at least two observers per polling station.

Two weeks prior to the election, the EOU got into top gear and distributed the Diplomatic Election Observers Field Guide – a self-prepared documentation containing guidelines for observers. Still, the ever cunning and unpredictable Moi jolted the EOU’s preparedness by suddenly transferring the Electoral Commission of Kenya (ECK)’s chairman Justice Zacchaeus Chesoni to the High Court. This move alone caught the international observers unawares; they did not know what the move portended.

There were glaring irregularities during the 1997 elections that the international observers took note of. “The opening and closing hours of the polling stations varied erratically with voting extending in some places to more than 48 hours,” wrote Braakhuis. “The counting process was equally erratic, sometimes taking a whole week.” There were also many irregularities in the ballot distribution. All these irregularities seemingly happening at the same time confused the observers. In fact, many of the international observers left even before all the voting had been concluded.

The international observers had to deal with a crafty Kanu party machinery that intimidated its opponents using brutal force, stuffing ballot boxes, spoiling ballot papers, introducing unsealed ballot boxes, kidnapping returning officers and handling ballot papers improperly. Yet, with all these irregularities, “the election of Daniel arap Moi as president was accepted,” observed Braakhuis.

According to Kenya’s Hobbled Democracy Revisited: The 1997 General Elections in Retrospect and Prospect by Arne Tostensen, Bard-Anders Andreassen and Kjetil Tronvoll, as far as election observation was concerned, the international element was smaller in 1997 than in 1992. “The international observers under the auspices of the Donors’ Democratic Development Group (DDDG) also assumed a more reticent attitude with respect to passing a judgement over the conduct of the election.”

“The technical limitations are exacerbated by political realities. Clearly, the idea that international observers are a neutral, independent force is a myth. In reality, they are every bit as subject to political pressure as the parties they observe.”

On the third cycle of multiparty elections that took place on December 27, 2002, the international observers would remark that “the 2002 elections mark(ed) an important step forward in the process of democratic development in Kenya.” In particular, the EU Election Observation Mission (EOM), which had been in the country from November 19, 2002 till January 17, 2003, stated that “the overall conduct of the elections constituted an example for other countries in the region, also because the electoral process resulted in the first transfer of power from one political group to another since independence.” The EU EOM waxed lyrical that the transfer of power from the Kanu regime to Mwai Kibaki’s government showed that Kenya had “truly become a multiparty democracy.”

The EU EOM also noted that “the level of violence and intimidation during the pre-election period was significantly below that predicted and below the level of the 1992 and 1997 elections.” In summary, the EU EOM said it was “impressed by the conduct of the 2002 elections.”

What exactly is the role of international observer missions?

What is it that gets an international observer team to get impressed about an election? And what exactly is the primary role of an election observer mission team?

In an article they wrote for Foreign Policy in April 2016, Gabrielle Lynch, Justus Willis and Nic Cheeseman argued that “international election observation missions – when small teams of foreign nationals are sent to watch over elections under the auspices of groups, such as the European Union, the African Union and the Carter Center – are intended to deter foul play and ensure free and fair polls. The trio noted that, “across Africa, international observers have frequently refused to give elections the evaluations they deserve for fear of offending incumbent governments and triggering political instability – and, also, it would seem because they apply lower standards on the continent.”

Are these the “lower standards” that the Financial Times alluded to as “the soft bigotry of low expectations” insofar as elections’ monitoring in Africa by international observers are concerned? The newspaper, in reference to Kerry’s praising of the IEBC beforehand for a “job well done”, said that the former US secretary of state “appeared guilty of the ‘soft bigotry of low expectations’, to borrow from a phrase coined by his own nemesis George W. Bush.”

“The challenges facing election monitors are both political and technical,” stated the Foreign Policy article. “The technical limitations are exacerbated by political realities. Clearly, the idea that international observers are a neutral, independent force is a myth. In reality, they are every bit as subject to political pressure as the parties they observe.” Citing Kenya specifically, the three writers of the article, who have been observing the political situation in the country for some time, noted that “in the 1990s, observers turned a blind eye to deeply flawed elections in Kenya because they were worried that speaking out would trigger civil war and regional instability.”

But it is Judith Kelly of Duke University in the United States who seems to have captured the true essence of international election observers: “[International] monitors are more likely to endorse elections in countries that are major foreign aid recipients. Kenya, one of the US’s closest allies on the [African] continent received more than $500 million in USAID funding last year.”

As if to bolster Kelly’s argument, on September 18, 2017, the US government’s Bureau of African Affairs made it publicly clear that they were keenly monitoring the trajectory leading to the fresh presidential elections slated for October, 17, 2017. “We [the US government] are not going to take our eyes way from Kenya: Kenya matters. If our largest embassy is in Nairobi, Kenya, that means we have a stake in that country, and Africa has a stake, and this government is looking at where the trend will go after October 17,” said the Bureau’s principal deputy assistant secretary Donald Yamamoto.

This sentiment is echoed by Emma Gordon, a senior East African risk analyst based in London, who observes that “for several years, election observers’ main audience has been the international community rather that the population whose election they monitor.”

However, by looking the other way as electoral malpractices are perpetrated by various governments, the international election observers have become, “complicit in the attempts of a brutal authoritarian regime to hold onto power and [in the process] undermined their own reputation.”

The August election in Kenya was a classic case of how international election observers undermined their reputations and credibility by whitewashing or ignoring electoral malpractices in the name of stability and to protect their own national interests.

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Mr Kahura is a senior writer for The Elephant.

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Africa’s Land, the Final Frontier of Global Capital

If the designs of global big money are not stopped in their tracks, Africa is threatened with environmental degradation and nutritional poverty.



Africa’s Land, the Final Frontier of Global Capital
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Three great factors are coming together to constitute what may be a whole new, and final chapter in the book of horrors that have been visited on the African people since the birth of Western European capitalism.

If Native Africans do not begin to think very deeply about what this is going to mean for what is left of them, in terms of their livelihoods and ways of living, then the recent past will seem like a small piece of paradise.

Unlike our ancestors, who are often blamed — opportunistically — for the original conquest of Africa and the trade in enslaved Africans that came before it, this time round, there will be no excuses or debate. Africa now knows what colonial conquest is and what it does, in a way that our unfortunate ancestors could not.

The first factor is that capitalism is fast running out of things to destroy in order to make profits. The climate crisis is the best evidence of this. This has been a long-term trend, certainly since the 1960s. However, the most recent financial collapse of 2008 certainly intensified it. Of the grand things and sectors left for capitalism to ravage, there is the production of food for the masses of people crowded into the towns and cities of the West, with no space, time or fundamental skills to produce it for themselves from scratch.

The global corporate food industry is based on one key assumption: that the human race, as it continues to grow in number, will become less and less able to independently produce food for itself. These is because of embedded assumptions about the inevitability of intensive urbanization, as well as time and lifestyle choices, themselves often culturally encouraged, if not imposed, by the same industry.

Food, that indispensable need, is now recreated as a guaranteed industrial commodity.

And so, a lot of corporate interest and money has migrated into the corporate agriculture sector, globally. Global big money is now trying to colonise food production itself, on a global scale, in order to find new ways of keeping its money valuable. Writing in mod-2011, the late Dani Nabudere perceives a deeper conflict:

During the first three months of 2008-the year the global economic crisis intensified, international nominal prices of all major food commodities reached their highest levels for fifty years. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation-FAO reported that food price indices had risen, on the average, by 8% in 2006 compared with the previous year.  In 2007, the food index rose by 24% compared with 2006 and in the first three months of 2008, it rose by 53% compared with 2007. This sudden surge in prices was led by increases in vegetable oils, which on the average increased by 97%, followed by grains with an increase of 87%, dairy products with 58% and rice with 46%.

This means that investing in food, or the assumption of the future existence of food as a commodity to be traded. In short, what is known as the Futures market. But the problem with futures is that at some point, the commodity will have to come into existence.

The second thing native Africans need to be aware of, and arising from the first, is that African land is going to be in demand in a way not seen even at the height of the period of European colonial domination.

Most of the world’s arable land is now found somewhere in Africa. It is unclear if by this is meant arable land under use, or also land that can be put to agricultural use (but may be located under a forest, or something, at present).

The March 2012 issue of Finance & Development Magazine sheds some light on that equation:

Throughout the world, it is estimated that 445 million hectares of land are uncultivated and available for farming, compared with about 1.5 billion hectares already under cultivation. About 201 million hectares are in sub-Saharan Africa, 123 million in Latin America, and 52 million in eastern Europe. . .

The third factor is that arable land is only arable if it has fresh water near it. And it is only viable for corporate exploitation if it also has no people on it. Africa is therefore the prime target: plenty of fresh water, and very few real land rights.

In my estimation, the area of Africa between the Western and Eastern Rift Valleys running along the length of the Nile valley below the Sahel has been identified as on the last open, near-virgin territories, ripe for intensive mechanized agricultural exploitation.

That area’s human settlements have historically originated around the pattern of freshwater bodies. A lot of Uganda was once a wetland. As a result, the country will find itself located at the very epicentre of any such an enterprise.

Dr Mike Burry, a now legendary American stock market operator is reported in the Farmfolio website to have said, “I believe that agricultural land – productive agricultural land with water on site – will be very valuable in the future . . . . I’ve put a good amount of money into that.”

The website goes on to report quite sarcastically,

Over the next three decades, the UN forecasts the global population to increase to about 10 billion. How do you imagine farmland investments will benefit from an over 30% increase in mouths to feed? Good luck feeding two billion people with Bitcoin or gold nuggets.

In this sense, colonialism was just the attempted start, with the former white settler farm economies of Kenya and southern Africa as the increasingly decrepit leftovers. The goal now is African land in general, wherever land can be turned over to large-scale (and therefore mechanised, “scientised” and corporatized) production of the commodities needed to make factory food.

The implications are clear: the goal of the huge capitalist formations that dominate public and foreign policy in the industrial countries, and whose agribusiness interests have a global reach, is to turn Africa into a huge farm, both as an opportunity, and as a response to an internal crisis.

In a May 2017 opinion piece published in the UK Guardian newspaper, then United Nations Environment Programme Head Erich Solheim made a similar point:

Several scenarios for cropland expansion – many focusing on Africa’s so-called “spare land” – have already effectively written off its elephants from having a future in the wild. These projections have earmarked a huge swathe of land spanning from Nigeria to South Sudan for farming, or parts of West Africa for conversion to palm oil plantations.

All this speaks directly to the immediate future of the African people. Put bluntly, in order to put industrial agriculture in place here, there will have to be genocide, massive environmental damage, widespread human displacement, and therefore repression and conflict as the tools of implementation.

African land is going to be in demand in a way not seen even at the height of the period of European colonial domination.

The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), calls the bringing of the US agribusiness model to Africa “a grave mistake”. They describe the model as “the single largest cause of biodiversity loss worldwide,” that “also fails to solve hunger, negatively impacts small-scale farmers, and causes environmental harm.”

It is in this context that the debates in Uganda and Kenya, for example, about land use and policy, can then be appreciated.

In Uganda, President Yoweri Museveni has launched a political offensive (once again) against the Kingdom of Buganda, describing its neo-traditional land tenure system as “evil” and in desperate need of reform.

This should not come as a surprise to anyone. First of all, Mr Museveni has firmly established himself as the pre-eminent fixer for imperialist ambitions in the Great Lakes Region. Whatever the owners of Western capital want here is what he will always try to deliver, no matter the collateral damage. Secondly, whenever the Ugandan president hatches a plan targeting the wealth and resources of native Ugandans, he begins with an attack on Buganda. Not because there is anything more valuable there, but because it enables the ideological seduction of a useful section of Ugandan political society: Ugandan “patriotism” was built on the notion that native identities are a bad thing, and that the Ganda identity is the worst of all.

It worked in the process of marginalising native voices in the independence movement and replacing them with smooth-talking “pan-Africanists”.

It then worked again with the creation of the culture of dictatorship between 1966 and 1979. Voices raised in opposition were easily dismissed as “divisive”, or retrograde. The mission now, was to build the new non-ethnic nation.

More recently, it has been deployed again to justify global neo-liberal designs on African land, through dismissing native resistance to it as “backward” and “parochial”.

Once it has been politically established that the overriding of native objections to anything is an essential and desirable part of development, then the “principle” can be applied in practice, to all other parts of the country.

Through its loyal and devoted client, the National Resistance Movement regime, Western capitalism is targeting all Ugandan land, regardless of which natives own it and under what system.

The same principle works differently in Kenya, but towards the same end. Initial white settler-based agriculture was never successful. Part of the story of Kenyan independence is actually the story of the Empire at headquarters becoming increasingly unwilling to deploy the economic, political and military resources needed to maintain a colony largely for the benefit of a small group of unproductive, self-regarding “middle-class sluts”, as one of the British commanding officers is alleged to have described the settlers.

However, a legacy of that time is that unlike in Uganda, vast areas of Kenya’s potentially productive land are still in white and foreign ownership. And a lot of this is in areas historically within a pastoralist ecosystem.

A succession of Kenyan governments neglected to address this historical injustice. In fact, through corruption, key individuals in a number of those regimes actively took advantage of the situation and joined the white families in becoming big landholders themselves.

Put bluntly, in order to put industrial agriculture in place here, there will have to be genocide.

Today, the three-way contestation between native (often pastoralist) communities, dogged white and other land oligarchs, and a wavering, uncaring state, rumbles on.

Co-author of The Big Conservation Lie: The Untold Story of Wildlife Conservation in Kenya, longstanding Kenyan conservation biologist, and land rights activist, Mordecai Ogada, has long argued that the whole wildlife tourism-based “conservation” industry run off the vast settler-leased native landholdings is basically a landgrab. The question will be Is this just for tourism, or will it be open to other ventures, like industrial agriculture?

It could lead to something deeper. Arguments for “development” and “rangeland/wildlife conservation” will be mobilised as a cover to carry out large-scale land grabbing and the eviction of peasants and pastoralists from lands they have historically occupied. Not just for the parochial descendants of the original white settlers now turned “conservationists”, but the kind of mega-scale mechanised planting that has been so central (and destructive) to the American mid-west, the Amazon basin, and native Canada.

This was also partly how the war that eventually split Sudan played out in the now separated south, and still plays out in Darfur and the Nuba Mountains. A significant section of Arab-descended northern economic elites was centered on the production of wheat. According to the Sudanese intellectual Dr Fatimer Babiker Mahmoud, in the late 1980s, this sector was making millions of dollars annually from the large-scale planting, harvesting and export of the grain to Europe, Asia and the Arab world.

Sometimes this meant the clearing of the more fertile lands of the south, the Nuba mountain lowlands and the Darfur region – all largely inhabited by Black Africans –  for the mechanised growing of wheat. This is what gave the conflict its racial character, as Arab chauvinist arguments were used to justify this genocide.

But, as with the white settler projects, these should be seen as trial runs in the greater measurement of our economic history. There is a need to understand the sheer scale and scope of these operations.

What may be coming will be much grander in scale, out of both Western necessity and greed.

Of the top ten foods listed as traded the most within global trade by  the Just-Food Magazine website in 2014, (fish, soybean, wheat, palm oil, beef, soybean meal, corn, chicken meat, rice and coffee) there are five key items that drive the processed food industry: palm oil, wheat, soya and corn.  It seems sugar cannot be accurately measured because it features in just about anything processed.

In addition, meat production (chicken, beef and pork) is dependent on the others on the list. Cattle are fed on corn, and soya (and the soybean meal) comprises part of what is fed to chickens.

The scale of the operations means that huge sums of money are invested. In today’s world, this means money from banks and institutional investors (hedge funds, etc.) as shareholders in agribusiness corporations. Poultry factories can contain up to forty thousand chickens permanently locked in cages for laying, or just warehouses of several thousand square feet. In early 2020, some 20 million chickens were being slaughtered each week in the United Kingdom. Corn and other grain are usually planted on lots measuring thousands of hectares apiece.

When investing on this scale, certain guarantees must be put in place. These are not matters that are left to chance, or fortune. And the primary purpose of all capitalist economic activity, especially in the West, is to obtain the biggest private return possible on any investment. And also usually in the shortest possible turnaround time.

This is why “insurance” measures are locked in from the start. In particular, chemical-based fertilisers, pesticides and fungicides and also increasingly, the use of genetically modified seeds and livestock, as well as steroids and antibiotics to promote rapid growth and prevent sicknesses.

In fact, through corruption, key individuals in a number of those regimes actively took advantage of the situation and joined the white families in becoming big landholders themselves.

The goal is huge, regular volumes of uniform products to be processed and marketed to huge urbanized populations.

The whole commercialisation process begins in the West, where this industry is the most developed. The European conquest of the continents of north and South America, also mark the period when food production migrated from being a community-based activity, to an industry.

This led to the clearance of human settlement from large areas of land, as well as the destruction of forests and wetlands, all to make way for the animal ranches and very big plantations.

This way of life is now being increasingly imposed on all societies, as “the normal”.

The recent riots in the Republic of South Africa for example, are an illustration of the dangers of becoming prisoners of a privately owned, mechanised food supply system, and also an attempted repudiation of it.

The rest of Africa is quickly “catching up” to this advanced backwardness, with the increasing rate of unplanned migration to urban centers due to loss of opportunities in community-based agriculture.

In Uganda for example, this process was driven by the intentional Museveni-led neo-liberal disruptions to the adapted system of community-based agriculture that has been built up in the country over a period of nearly eight decades.

Agricultural production remains at the heart of this struggle. The Africans sought to ensure that they continued to produce their indigenous food crops so as to retain food sovereignty, while at the same time engaging in the new cash crop economy that was encroaching on their land and labour power.

Official African policy within each African state, as well as in the regional economic blocs and the various policy and finance bodies (such as the African Development Bank), remain uncritically in support (or at least not opposed) to this general strategic direction.

What may be coming will be much grander in scale, out of both Western necessity and greed.

“Africa must start by treating agriculture as a business,” wrote African Development Bank (AfDB) President Dr Akinwumi Adesina, in African Business magazine in 2017.  “It must learn fast from experiences elsewhere, for example in south east Asia, where agriculture has been the foundation for fast-paced economic growth, built on a strong food processing and agro-industrial manufacturing base.”

Our official planners suffer from a tragic tendency of conflating any activity involving money and machines, with “development”. The intention is to duplicate life as it is almost universally led in the Western-style countries. They think is will bring “industrialisation”, and through that, jobs.

There are four significant conflicts or budding conflicts on the continent right now, in which arable land for mechanisation will increasingly become a factor. These are in southern Ethiopia, Congo and the whole Sahel zone, anchored on Nigeria (and Sudan), and Kenya.

If these developments are not challenged and stopped, Africa can look forward to environmental degradation, and nutritional poverty.

We will all become Africans in South Africa, and poor people in the West.

Assuming the Western industrial system lasts much longer. And that the planet also does.

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How Capitalism Uses and Abuses the Arts

The arts business is a very flawed, archaic and extremely exploitative model but artists continue to rely on corporate sponsorship, without questioning the shrinking spaces and opportunities for the arts to thrive.



How Capitalism Uses and Abuses the Arts
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In my last piece, I talked about how our education system destroys the arts by corrupting the meaning of education, work and the arts. And I said that these lies that are perpetuated in the name of education come from the unholy and abusive marriage between education and business. (I have said elsewhere that this marriage should be annulled immediately.)

In this piece, I’m going to talk about how capitalist business is the prime beneficiary of the terrible state of the arts in Kenya.

​Businesses swing artists between two extremes. On one hand, which I already explained in my previous letter, the business (parasite) sector encourages the education system to degrade the arts, so that art does not look like real work that takes skill and resources. By doing that, the business sector justifies artists not being paid for their work. If you have noticed that you are not getting paid, or your payment is delayed, it is because of that madharau for the arts. The accountants cooking books look at you and think to themselves “Why should I pay someone for shaking around or singing for people? Even I could have done that work if I wasn’t here balancing books.”

On the other hand, capitalism does pay artists huge amounts of money, like we see in Hollywood where people like Oprah and Jay Z have become billionaires through entertainment.

In the end, artists are treated like battered spouses. One minute, a spouse is being abused and beaten, and the next minute, when the battered person has had enough, the abuser apologizes, swears how much they love the battered person and promises not to beat the spouse again. And the cycle starts again.

Art and wealth

The first thing to understand about the arts business is that it is a very flawed, archaic and extremely exploitative model. I will talk mainly about music, but book publishing and other types of art business work using the same principle.

Basically, the art business uses the rentier model, like a landlord. A landlord builds a house once but earns money on that house as long as he owns the right to that house. The “work” of living there, or the business carried out there, is done by other people, but the landlord earns a cut of that work despite doing no work. Simply because he owns the property in which the work was done.

And that is the same thing record labels and studios do. They provide initial capital and make the artist sign a 360-degree contract that allows the label to earn from everything the artist is involved in for the rest of the artist’s life: performance, recording, brand merchandise and even artistic license. An artist who is signed to a record label is an enslaved person. In the US, artists who are lucky earn 10 to 15 per cent of the revenues they generate for the music industry. The rest are unlucky and earn much less, if anything.

Imagine that. For every artist billionaire we know, their record label earns nine times more.

As an artist, you’re probably thinking, “Well, it may be exploitative but at least it works. Why can’t those exploiters come and work in Kenya?”

Actually, they are working here, and we know it. They have names like MCSK and Liberty Afrika. And the way these companies exploit artists is the same way other companies exploit everybody else in employment. The wages we earn are nothing compared to the profits that entitled, lazy and ignorant fat cats make from our work, and yet — as we see with the doctors — companies are constantly coming up with new schemes to avoid paying us for the work we do.

An artist who is signed to a record label is an enslaved person.

And we should not compare ourselves to the Queen Beys and Justin Beibers of the West; rather, we should be aware that even in the Westmany artists are exploited.

I tell my arts students that they should spend time in the university studying and imagining a different model for earning income from the arts. For instance, 360-degree contracts should be considered slavery and outlawed. Saying that every future income of an artist is tied to the initial capital invested in their recording is just as ridiculous as a food supplier to a restaurant saying that they should earn 90 per cent of every plate or meal served by the restaurant. Once the food is delivered and paid for, the contract should end there. Artists should pay studios, publishers and marketers separately as bills, not on promise of royalties.

But because my students have been told that education is only for jobs, none has ever taken up my challenge to think about this.

Virgin territory

There is another form of abuse and exploitation of artists that is less talked about because it is less easy to quantify. That is idea theft.

Through platforms like hubs, and through demanding proposals for shows and other performances, institutions exploits the artist’s energy and innovation, then pull the rug from under the artist and run off with the idea. That is why artists will start small concert gigs and before long, corporates, instead of sponsoring those gigs, create their own versions because they can pour in the money to make it big.

And these initially sustainable and indigenous ideas soon turn into monsters. These corporates invade natural parks like Hells Gate to sell even bigger than they should. Not only do they subvert eco-systems, they also crush their conservation opponents with media blitz and economic blackmail. What started as a Kenyan artistic initiative is not only hijacked but also turned into a short term, exploitative and destructive tsunami that dies almost as soon as it is born.

I tell my arts students that they should spend time in the university studying and imagining a different model for earning income from the arts.

Other artists report having given studios or media houses an idea for a show, leaving with a promise that they will hear from the producers. Within a few weeks, they see a bad version of the show they proposed. Is it a wonder that television entertainment is so unimaginative and poorly executed?

But this is the nature of capitalism: like a paedophile, it lets nothing mature and thrive. It instead derives a perverted sense of pleasure from exploiting the vulnerable and destroying budding ideas before the ideas develop to maturity.

Impunity and abuse

This paedophilia is replicated across all institutions. As someone recently said on Twitter, we are often employed on the promise of our ideas, upon which we are promptly frustrated and prevented from developing them.

No institution has escaped change and democratic supervision like the workplace. Workers around the world are succumbing to the abuse of the workplace, whether they are employed or not. Stress levels are high, and sexual bullying, mental illness, addiction and suicide are on the rise. The workplace has become a crime scene, where people get away with abuse and psychological torture.

But what is slightly unique about the arts is that when artists suffer from the same vices, the business world convinces us that this inhumanity is part of the artists’ creativity. That is why the high rate of depression and suicide among artists is not treated as a pandemic. When artists suffer violence such as being shot in clubs and being drugged and raped, we the abused and terrorized Kenyan public thinks that their abuse comes with the artistic territory.

In fact, we even accept that the business community does not treat artists as workers like other employees. Artists are not paid a salary, pension and benefits. They don’t go on leave. They are on the road all the time, or constantly searching for new gigs and new contracts, and never taking a break. The constant toil takes a toll on their minds and bodies and they start to use substances to stabilize their lives instead of getting some rest. Then there is the parasite industry of the paparazzi who make sales from intruding on artists’ lives and selling the details to the world.

The workplace has become a crime scene, where people get away with abuse and psychological torture.

But instead of us criminalizing these vices committed against artists, we let the business world convince us that this inhumanity is part of the artists’ creativity. That is utter nonsense.

Worse, the impunity also makes every new generation join the arts thinking that creativity requires criminality, substance abuse and insanity.

And the business sector has an evil, devilish interest in making literal murder and depravity acceptable for artists. Because of the power of the arts to free people, capitalism cannot let the arts thrive on their own, for the arts will inspire the people to challenge the tyranny of business by looking for alternative business models.

But at the same time, capitalism needs the power of the arts to manipulate people to behave in the interests of business. It puts the arts on a leash, so that the arts go only where capital wants the arts to go — to sedating the masses into accepting exploitation or into buying things.

And the artists, unfortunately, are joined to corporations at the hip and naively celebrate their reliance on corporate sponsorship, without questioning the shrinking spaces and opportunities for the arts to thrive.

And we artists need to understand that this abusive relationship is made possible by the hostility of the church. Instead of the church being our refuge in times of trouble, the clergy side with the state when the state crushes us through bans and censorship that are implemented in the name of morality.

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Laikipia Land Crisis: A Ticking Time Bomb

Historic land injustices, changing land ownership and use, and heightened competition for natural resources — exacerbated by the effects of climate change — make for a perfect storm.



Laikipia Land Crisis: A Ticking Time Bomb
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“Here we have a territory (now that the Uganda Railway is built) admirably suited for a white man’s country, and I can say this with no thought of injustice to any native race, for the country in question is either utterly uninhabited for miles and miles or at most its inhabitants are wandering hunters who have no settled home . . . .” Sir Harry Johnstone

There have been significant changes in the pattern of land ownership in Laikipia in the last two decades. These changes are set against a background of profound inequalities in land ownership in a county where, according to data in the Ministry of Lands, 40.3 per cent of the land is controlled by 48 individuals or entities. The changes have not brought about an improvement in the lives of the pastoralists and other indigenous communities who occupied Laikipia before colonisation. These groups — and the Maasai in particular, following their 1904 and 1911 treaties with the British — were forced out and relegated to reserves in southern Kenya to make way for the establishment of large commercial ranches owned by White settlers. Those indigenous inhabitants who remained were pushed by subsequent colonial legislation to Mukogodo in the north of the county, the driest part of Laikipia.

The pastoralists did not recover their land with the end of colonial rule. On the contrary, Jomo Kenyatta, the first president of Kenya, encouraged White settlers to remain after independence and today, some of the descendants of those settlers who decided to make Kenya their permanent home still occupy vast swathes of land in Laikipia County. Those who were unwilling to remain in Kenya under majority rule sold their land to the Kenyatta administration. As Catherine Boone, Fibian Lukalo and Sandra Joireman observe in Promised Land: Settlement Schemes in Kenya, 1962 to 2016,

With the approach of independence, the settler state and the British government stepped in to protect the interests of Kenya’s white land-owners by creating a land market for white settlers who wanted to sell their agricultural holdings, and supporting land values for those who wanted to stay. The buyer of most of these properties was the Government of Kenya, using loans provided by the British Government and the World Bank. Through this process, the Kenyan state acquired about half of the land in the (ex-) Scheduled Areas.

In 1968, under the World Bank-funded Kenya Livestock Development Programme — whose stated objective was “to increase beef production for home consumption and export mainly by subsistence pastoral groups” — the government enacted the Land (Group Representative) Act (Cap. 287) that saw the creation of 13 group ranches in the northern part of Laikipia, which is the driest part of the county. However, well-connected local elites helped themselves to part of the land, excised as individual ranches. There are 36 such individual ranches that should have been part of the group ranches.

Those ranches that were sold to the Kenyan government by the departing British settlers are within the expansive Laikipia plateau. The government later sold them to land buying companies formed by Kikuyus that in turn subdivided them into individual holdings. Examples of such lands include Kamnarok, Kimugandura, Kirimukuyu, Mathenge, Ireri and Endana, among others. The remaining land was gazetted as government land such ADC Mutara and Kirimon, or outspans such as Ngarendare and Mukogodo, which were used for finishing livestock for sale to the Kenya Meat Commission.

Land tenure and use

In the Kenyan context, and compared to other counties, the history of land in Laikipia County is unique, with a diversity of tenure systems each representing a unique system of production. The map below shows the different land use and tenure systems in Laikipia County that include large-scale ranches, large-scale farms, group ranches and smallholder farms.

There are 48 large-scale ranches sitting on 40.3 per cent of the total land area in Laikipia County, 9,532.2km², some of which are still owned by the descendants of the colonial settlers. The ranches  occupy huge tracts of land, the three largest being Laikipia Nature Conservancy with 107,000 acres, Ol Pejeta with 88,923.79 acres, and Loisaba with 62,092.97 acres.

Source: Ministry of Lands

Most of these large-scale ranches — many of which have an integrated economic system that includes livestock, horticulture, wildlife conservation and tourism — were acquired during the colonial period and legislation governing their ownership was taken from the colonial law and integrated into the constitution of independent Kenya under the land transfer agreement between the colonial government and the Kenyatta regime. It should be noted that the Maasai land campaign of 2004 pushing the government to address historical injustices following the forced ouster of Maasai from their ancestral lands in Laikipia, brought to light the fact that some of these ranches had no legal documents of ownership. In an article titled In the Grip of the Vampire State: Maasai Land Struggles in Kenyan Politics published in the Journal of Eastern African Studies, Parselelo Kantai observes,

Ranchers interviewed could not remember how long their own land-leases were supposed to last, were unaware of the Anglo-Maasai Agreement, and, in at least one case, were unable to produce title deeds to their ranches. And when opinion was expressed, it bordered on the absurd: the ‘invaders’, observed Ms Odile de Weck, who had inherited her father’s 3,600-acre Loldoto Farm, were not genuine — not Maasai at all. They were, she noted emphatically, Kikuyus. The Maasai, she said, had willingly ceded rights to Laikipia, had been compensated long ago and now resided happily in some other part of Kenya, far away.

Immediately following the campaign, the Ministry of Lands started putting out advertisements in the print media inviting those landowners whose leases were expiring to contact it.

Twenty-three large-scale farms occupy 1.48 per cent of the land in Laikipia County. These farms are mostly owned by individuals from the former Central Province who bought the land following sub-division by the Kenyatta administration, or through land buying companies, which opted not to sub-divide the land but to use it as collateral to access bank loans.

Source: Ministry of Lands

Smallholdings sit on 27.21 per cent of the total land area in Laikipia County. These farms were initially large-scale farms bought by groups of individuals who later sub-divided them into smallholdings of between two and five acres. There are three categories of farmers in this group: those who bought land and settled to escape land pressure in their ancestral homes, those who bought the land for speculative purposes, and those who bought land and used it as collateral for bank loans. A majority of the first group still live on their farms, practising subsistence, rain-fed agriculture. Most members of the other two groups are absentee landowners whose idle land has over time been occupied by pastoralists in search of water and pasture for their animals, or by squatters seeking to escape the population pressure in the group ranches. In some cases, pastoralists have bought the idle land and have title.

The 13 group ranches cover 7.45 per cent of the total Laikipia land area and are occupied by pastoralists who use them for communal grazing. However, some of the group ranches such as Il Ngwesi, Kijabe, Lekurruki and Koija have also established wildlife conservancies and built tourist lodges.

Laikipia land use.

Source: CETRAD

Changing land ownership, changing landscapes

Since the late 1990s, when agitation for political reforms and a new constitution began in earnest, and in the intervening period, new patterns of land ownership and land use have been emerging in Laikipia County.

Data from the Laikipia County Government indicates that 16 of the 48 large-scale ranches have been internally sub-divided into units of between 3,000 and 4,000 acres, with the land rates due for each sub-division paid according to the size of the sub-division. The sub-divisions are made through private arrangements and do not appear in the records at the Ministry of Lands. There are claims that the sub-divided parcels have been ceded to European retirees looking to acquire land for holiday homes in Laikipia, and to White Zimbabweans. There are also claims that the large, palatial, private residences that have sprung up within the sub-divided parcels are in fact tourist destinations for a high-end clientele in a business that operates outside Kenya’s tourism regulatory framework and violates Kenya tax laws.

In the Kenyan context, and compared to other counties, the history of land in Laikipia County is unique, with a diversity of tenure systems each representing a unique system of production.

Whatever the case, the County Government of Laikipia confirms, “Most of the white settlers buying property are soldiers or tourists who loved the [county’s] climate, its people and natural beauty and want to experience it all over again. Big time investors [sic] in real estate flock the area, either to buy or construct multi-million shilling holiday homes, targeting wealthy European settlers and tourists.”

The Laikipia County Government also confirms that the large-scale ranches have also been leasing training grounds to the British Army Training Unit Kenya (BATUK), adding, “In 2009 BATUK expanded these grounds to 11 privately owned ranches, including Sosian, Ol Maisor and the Laikipia Nature Conservancy.”

Multinationals have also moved in, buying up the large-scale farms, particularly those situated near permanent sources of water, where they have set up horticultural businesses growing crops for export to the European market. The arrival of export horticulture in Laikipia has increased competition for resources as “agro-industrial horticulture, pastoralism and small holder agriculture compete for land, capital, and water, with access to water being particularly hotly contested.”

Absentee owners of smallholdings that have over time been occupied by squatters are also selling their land. With the help of brokers and officials from the Ministry of Lands, the smallholdings are consolidated and sold to individuals and companies who may not be aware that the land is occupied and that the sale could be a potential source of conflict.

Only the group ranches — which are occupied by pastoralists who use traditional grazing management techniques — have not changed hands and remain intact. They are, however, facing pressure from a growing population, intensive grazing and increasingly frequent droughts that are putting a strain on the natural resources.

On the other hand, most of the land gazetted as government land has been grabbed by senior government officials, politicians and military personnel. Of the 36 government outspans, only four remain. Outspans neighbouring large-scale ranches have been grabbed by the ranch managers and such grabbed land has since changed hands and been acquired by individuals.

Where farmers were settled in forests during the era of former President Daniel arap Moi, forest cover was plundered for timber and the forest floor given over to cultivation. When President Mwai Kibaki succeeded Moi, these farmers were constantly under threat of eviction but they continue to occupy the forests to date. There are, however, intact forest reserves where on-going human activity has not had a negative impact. They are used and managed by pastoralists as grazing lands, or managed by conservation groups, or by the government.

Impact of change of ownership on other livelihood groups 

Land deals are coming to compound an already existing multiplicity of problems related to the access, use and management of scarce resources in Laikipia County. Compared to neighbouring counties, in the past Laikipia received moderate rainfall and severe droughts like those experienced in 2009, in 2017 and now in 2021 were the exception. This attracted pastoralists from Baringo, Samburu and Isiolo counties to settle in the county in search of water and pasture for their livestock.

Over time, land pressure in central Kenya also forced subsistence farmers to move and settle in Laikipia, practicing rain-fed agriculture and keeping small herds of sheep, goats and cattle. This has led to competition for space and resources that has been compounded by frequent and increasingly severe droughts in recent years.

“The Maasai, she said, had willingly ceded rights to Laikipia, had been compensated long ago and now resided happily in some other part of Kenya, far away.”

The consolidation of smallholdings belonging to absentee owners where land that had previously been sub-divided into units of between two and five acres is now being merged to form bigger units of 500 acres and above, sold off and fenced is further reducing the land available to pastoralists and to squatters who have been using such idle land to graze livestock and grow crops, leaving them with limited options and leading to an increase in levels of vulnerability as they have to rely on relief food in order to survive.

The smallholder land consolidation process, which is being undertaken by former ranch managers who are brokering for individual buyers, is also blamed for the over-exploitation of natural resources in some areas and their conservation in others. In those areas occupied by farming communities, forest cover has been exploited either for charcoal burning, firewood or timber production as people look for alternative sources of livelihood. In the smallholdings where pastoralists have title, overgrazing of the rangelands due to constrained mobility does not allow the range to regenerate. This in turn has led to the degradation of the land and the emergence of unpalatable invasive species of plants like prosopis that render grazing areas unusable, further compounding the problem of access to pasture in the few areas left for pastoralists to graze.

In the group ranches, the most degraded rangelands are overrun with opuntia stricta, an invasive species of cactus whose fruit is harmful to livestock and has caused “economic losses in excess of US$500 in 48% of households in Laikipia”.

On the other hand, in the large-scale ranches, large farms, consolidated smallholder farms and group ranches where conservation and resource use fall under the intensive management of a few individuals, the availability of resources is assured even during times of stress. However, the availability of resources for one group of users and the lack of resources for another often leads to conflict as those without poach from those who have them. One example is when pastoralists graze illegally in the large-scale ranches whenever there is scarcity in their own areas, leading to arrests and sometimes confiscation of livestock from the pastoralists by government agencies in an attempt to protect the large-scale ranches.

Historical injustices and government failures

Article 60 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 guarantees equitable access to land and security of land rights. Further, Article 68(c)(1) states, “Parliament shall enact legislation to prescribe minimum and maximum land holding acreages in respect of private land.” Parliament has failed to pass such legislation and, indeed, the government has shied away from addressing historical land injustices in Kenya in general and in Laikipia – where they are most visible – in particular. Policy makers rarely discuss justice in the context of land reform and what has taken place are land law reforms in lieu of the essential land reforms that would confront the material consequences of unequal access to land. As Ambreena Manji observes in her paper Whose Land is it Anyway?,

The consequences of a legalistic approach to land reform are starkly evident in Kenya’s new land laws. First and foremost, it foreclosed debates about redistribution, prioritising land law reform as the most effective way to address land problems and so evading more difficult questions about who controls access to land how a more just distribution might be achieved.

The recent violence that visited death and destruction on parts of Laikipia is a continuation and an escalation of a crisis that first came to a head in May 2000 when pastoralists drove their livestock into Loldaiga farm. Then the Moi government intervened and allowed the pastoralists into the Mt Kenya and Aberdare forests while big ranchers supported the government by allowing some animals onto their ranches.

In 2004, pastoralists again occupied commercial ranches while agitating for the non-renewal of land leases which they believed had expired. This time the Kibaki government used force to dislodge them. However, the question of land leases remains unresolved to date. Outbreaks of violence have become more frequent since 2009, caused by a combination of factors including the effects of climate change and increasingly frequent droughts that force pastoralists from neighbouring Baringo, Isiolo and Samburu into Laikipia in search of water and pasture. This inevitably leads to conflicts with ranchers onto whose land they drive their animals.

Population pressure, from both humans and livestock, is another cause of conflict in Laikipia. The carrying capacity of group ranches is stretched to the limit while it is plenty on neighbouring commercial ranches. Moreover, population migration to Laikipia from neighbouring counties is placing additional pressure on resources.

The sub-divisions are made through private arrangements and do not appear in the records at the Ministry of Lands.

The proliferation of small arms in the county has added to the insecurity; pastoralists from neighbouring counties invade and occupy commercial ranches, conservancies, smallholdings and forests armed with sophisticated weapons. Laikipia pastoralists have also acquired weapons both to defend themselves and their animals and to invade other land.

Politicians have since 2009 also been encouraging pastoralists from neighbouring counties to move to Laikipia on promises of protection in exchange for votes. There are also claims that politicians have been helping the pastoralists to acquire arms and that most of the livestock being grazed in private ranches and farms belongs to senior government officials and politicians who have exerted pressure on the government not to act on the pastoralists.

In the twilight of another Kenyatta government, relations between the commercial farmers and ranchers, the pastoralists and the smallholders remain poor and there is a lot of suspicion among them, with each group acting as an isolated entity. But for how long can the big commercial ranches and large-scale farms continue to thrive in the midst of poor farmers and dispossessed pastoralists?

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