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Geothermal Development in Kenya: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

13 min read.

Geothermal development in Kenya is widely welcomed as green, clean and good for the country. But behind the glowing publicity is a hidden story of forced relocation, human rights abuses, land loss, shattered lives, joblessness, deepening poverty, and serious negative impacts on the health of local people and their livestock.

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Geothermal Development in Kenya: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
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Geothermal development in Kenya’s Rift Valley is expected to reap enormous energy benefits for the nation as a whole. Geothermal energy is widely seen as green and clean, a superior alternative to other forms of renewable energy that is sustainable and environmentally friendly with low carbon emissions.

However, new research by an international collaborative team that includes Kenyans shows that the impacts of this industry upon local communities (in this case, in the Ol Karia area of Nakuru County) are often negative. The research also provides evidence that geothermal expansion, which took off here in the 1970s, has led to many divisions and ongoing conflicts, including conflicts over equitable resource use. Other issues of concern include environmental degradation, the negative health impact on humans and animals, forced resettlement, increasing poverty, lack of access to benefits, including jobs, houses and profit-sharing, violation of human and land rights, and the absence of community representation in the geothermal companies (largely KenGen, the Kenya Electricity Generating Company).

The negative impacts of the geothermal industry on local communities are rarely, if ever, listed among its disadvantages. Issues of greatest concern to companies and funders have more to do things like high up-front costs, technical challenges, and high risks faced in the early stages of development. Too often, the negative impacts on humans, livestock and the environment seem to be regarded as collateral damage.

Many questions have been raised about the role of the state and international financial institutions in this scenario, which this story will go on to discuss. From my observations as an academic researcher who has studied imperial history, there is more than a whiff of colonial arrogance in the behaviour of major lenders, such as the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the World Bank, which have both invested heavily in the geothermal industry at Ol Karia, the latter since the early 1980s. As I pointed out in person to EIB and EIB-Complaints Mechanism (EIB-CM) staff at an NGO workshop in Brussels earlier this year, decisions made in European and other foreign capitals can have life-long and devastating impacts on what funders call “project-affected persons” (PAPs), long after investors and other international players have left the scene. What the banks regard as “completed” is never over for PAPs on the receiving end. (These staffers did not look me in the eye, or respond.)

At the grassroots level in Ol Karia, accusations of nepotism, corruption and discrimination also abound. Some indigenous residents (such as the Turkana and the Samburu) accuse the majority Maasai of doubly marginalising them in the scramble for rights and benefits. Though Maasai representatives have made repeated formal complaints to the banks concerned, and some contentious issues have been addressed, people face serious ongoing challenges that leave them impoverished, frustrated and despairing. Our research showed that youth, women, non-literates, the poorest and elders (apart from those on village and other liaison committees, who tend to be relatively well-off and well-connected) have been hardest hit.

From my observations as an academic researcher who has studied imperial history, there is more than a whiff of colonial arrogance in the behaviour of major lenders, such as the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the World Bank, which have both invested heavily in the geothermal industry at Ol Karia.

In East Africa as a whole, electricity demand is expected to quadruple by 2033, with geothermal, wind and hydropower seen as important means of meeting that demand. For Kenya, geothermal (which literally means “earth’s heat”) is now officially favoured over hydropower because of the climatic changes that hydropower is susceptible to.

By April 2020, Kenya had risen to seventh place in the list of top geothermal power producers, the only African country on the list. Kenya is Africa’s largest producer of geothermal energy. Geothermal power is flagged in Vision 2030, the Government of Kenya’s vision for the future, as a central plank in the development of the country.  Kenya aims to produce 50 per cent of its energy from geothermal sources by 2025, and 100 per cent by 2050. Geothermal now accounts for 30 per cent of Kenya’s total installed power capacity of 2,700MW, with the remainder taken up by hydropower, wind, solar and thermal power. The benefits are not only for the national grid; other uses of geothermal energy include powering some Naivasha flower farms. A group of Nakuru farmers has also signed a deal with the parastatal GDC (Geothermal Development Company) that allows them to use geothermal energy in agriculture.

Threats to marginalised people and lands

The extractive industry, together with large-scale infrastructure projects of various kinds, have become increasingly invasive of the lands and other natural resources of indigenous and marginalised communities across Africa and other parts of the world. Lands once considered worthless have become sites of intense interest to states, investors and other players because of the rich resources they contain. Unsurprisingly, this has triggered acute contestation over natural and cultural resource rights.

Historical marginality often places indigenous and marginalised people at a distinct disadvantage when they try to articulate their concerns and fight their corner. Forced resettlement to make way for extractive industries has involved human rights abuses. Governments, industries and funders often fail to abide by the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), or to consult sufficiently with affected communities before geothermal projects start, or even to follow their own policies on indigenous peoples, which the World Bank has admitted failing to do at Ol Karia. The other foreign banks involved in funding this project agreed to follow World Bank policies rather than their own.

Although it didn’t matter for the purposes of this project, the EIB also decided that the Ol Karia Maasai did not meet its criteria for indigenous peoples and chose to classify them as “vulnerable” instead. This does not provide anything like the same level of protection, and has proved disastrous for this community.

Forced resettlement to make way for extractive industries has involved human rights abuses. Governments, industries and funders often fail to abide by the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC), or to consult sufficiently with affected communities before geothermal projects start…

The EIB has explained (in responses to me and Bankwatch) that it decided not to classify these Maasai as indigenous in 2009 (when it was making plans to fund the power plant Olkaria IV) because it believed that “tribal sentiments were still on the rise” after the post-election violence of 2008. It believed that such a classification might lead to more ethnic strife. This nonsensical interpretation demonstrates how little the EIB understands Kenyan politics, and the socio-political climate in which it operates. From observation and written evidence, its so-called “experts” on the ground are anything but. One, an official mediator between the Maasai and KenGen, even expressed shockingly derogatory remarks to me about the alleged “backwardness” of the Maasai, views which hardly make him suitable as a mediator. Maasai informants said they regarded the mediators as “KenGen’s spies”.

It is important to note that although the community is predominantly Maasai and Maa-speakers (people who speak the Maa language but who are not necessarily Maasai) who have lived here for centuries, it also includes members of other ethnic groups who have intermarried and inter-settled with the Maasai over many years. The community is, therefore, a microcosm of multicultural Kenya. Some Maasai rights activists tend to ignore this fact for obvious reasons: it does not fit their mono-ethnic narrative.

Recent history, some impacts

Geothermal exploration first began in this area of Naivasha Sub-County in 1956 with exploratory drilling. But it was not until the 1970s that geothermal development began to intensify. Olkaria I was the first power plant in Africa, commissioned in three phases starting in 1981. There are now five geothermal plants in the Greater OlKaria (sic) Geothermal Complex, with others planned or in development. (Other plants, either built or planned outside this Complex, follow the line of the Rift Valley.) Akiira One is not built yet, partly because the company behind it, Akiira Geothermal Ltd. (AGL), is mired in issues around alleged human rights abuse against squatters it forced off its land with the aid of police and county officials. European funders of AGL, including the EIB, are investigating. (I say more about these events below.)

Three of KenGen’s five plants have been built in Hell’s Gate National Park. These plants have devastated this once beautiful heritage site. Large areas of the park now look more like an industrial estate than a protected area: plants and wells constantly gush steam, the well-heads make deafening 24-hour noise, huge pipelines snake across the landscape, roads are choked with company and subcontractors’ lorries and machinery, water sources are polluted, and the air around the plants stinks of rotten eggs (hydrogen sulphide). After just a couple of weeks’ fieldwork, I fell ill with respiratory problems.

However, what I endured is nothing compared to what the people who have to live here permanently have to go through. A 44-year-old Samburu blacksmith told me: “I have done an experiment – I sent my children to Samburu, and when they came back they were very healthy. After a few weeks of staying here, their faces have changed, and skin rashes have started appearing on their bodies. They’re suffering a lot of coughing and common cold almost every day.” Locals blame geothermal for the rise in respiratory illness and miscarriages, among other things.

Complaints

A number of formal complaints have been made to KenGen and the external funders’ complaints mechanisms: the World Bank Inspection Panel (WB-IP) and the EIB Complaints Mechanism (EIB-CM). Many of the complaints relate to the forced resettlement in 2014 of four Maasai villages to a new settlement called RAPland (RAP stands for Resettlement Action Plan), a remote area next to the Akiira One/AGL concession. This was done to make way for Olkaria IV. Some 1,000 people were moved to new two-bedroom houses in RAPland, each on a 0.41-hectare plot. But this move involved swapping an area of 4,200 acres for just 1,700 acres. Many people complain about the houses, which are not built in a traditional culturally-acceptable style, which cannot accommodate extended families, and which are more expensive to furnish and run.

Moreover, the new land is much less productive than the one they were forced to leave. It is full of steep gullies into which cattle regularly fall and injure themselves, or even die. The pasture is poor and soil erosion is rife. Worst of all, the area is fenced in, which is antithetical to free-roaming pastoralism. “They have put us in a fence like animals in a zoo,” said one informant. People are also very unhappy about the communal leasehold land title that KenGen has given them, and claim it is not what was promised. The document does not refer to RAPland but to a totally different geographical area.

Three of KenGen’s five plants have been built in Hell’s Gate National Park. These plants have devastated this once beautiful heritage site. Large areas of the park now look more like an industrial estate than a protected area…

Other complaints include those relating to the loss of cultural sites and livelihoods, the remoteness of RAPland, which is far from shopping centres and other urban services (KenGen has refused to allow a commercial centre to be built), lack of public transport, (which forces people to use very expensive private transport), KenGen’s failure to employ many Maasai, other than in insecure, low-paid, low-skilled jobs, corruption, nepotism and discrimination (which have fouled the process of awarding compensation to PAPs), and failure to fully implement a May 2016 Mediation Agreement between the community and KenGen. (Though Maasai representatives signed this, they are deeply unhappy about how it has unravelled. Some call the mediation process “a hidden wolf”.)

On the positive side, KenGen has provided the new houses, and built facilities including a school, dispensary, community hall, roads, bridges and water points. They have, to some extent, acted upon the complaints. The Maasai did agree to the move, but our research shows that many people did not fully understand the long-term implications. Failure to communicate in the Maa language led to many people being excluded from the consultations (the World Bank has admitted this). Some folk have complained that they failed to get new houses despite being eligible. As a result, several poor widows, and indigenous people who are not Maasai, have been forced to squat with relatives in RAPland after being made homeless. One Samburu widow, 46, whose family has broken up as a result of the resettlement, said: “We are scattered like the faeces of a high-flying bird.”

Responses

In 2015, the EIB-CM and the WB-IP carried out a joint investigation into the complaints, Two reports, in 2015 and 2016, admitted that serious mistakes had been made, and some of the complainants’ allegations were founded. I counted eight incidences of admitted “non-compliance” with World Bank protocols in the 2015 report; there may be more.

Notably, the World Bank admitted failing to apply its policy on indigenous peoples (Operational Policy 4.10). This led to “significant shortcomings regarding consultation, the cultural compatibility of the resettlement, benefit sharing…The Panel believes applying the Policy might have avoided or mitigated some of the harms caused by the Project”.

Most importantly, by not classifying the Maasai as indigenous, the banks failed to draw up an Indigenous Peoples Plan, as they normally would, and to secure Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) from the community – a prerequisite in funding projects of this kind. In a series of email exchanges with the EIB over many months, it could not tell me why it classified the Maasai in this way, nor explain the reasoning behind its definition of indigenous peoples, which (as I pointed out to them) contains criteria not used by the World Bank or any other international organisation. I got the impression it has no idea what indigeneity means, and relies on ill-informed staff who know nothing about indigenous peoples and their rights in international law. On telling them this, all the EIB could do was crossly accuse me of unethical academic practice, and of maligning one particular staffer. Not true. I was simply asking legitimate questions of a bank that purports to be transparent and accountable.

The EIB-CM and the WB-IP initiated a mediation process, starting in August 2015, with the aim of reaching agreement between KenGen and the complainants on remedial actions. KenGen pledged, among other things, to improve roads and water supplies, take action on soil erosion and gullies, transfer communal land titles for RAPland and another area called Cultural Centre (the site of a village that was razed to make way for Olkaria IV), build more houses, assist people in marketing their cultural wares, and re-examine the cases of people who claimed to have been unfairly treated in censuses that took place before the resettlement. KenGen is still carrying out some remedial work, such as road repairs and bridge building.

The project also involved other external funders. Our research (and that of other scholars such as Jeanette Schade) shows there is a risk in having multiple funders since lines of responsibility can become blurred. For example, the EIB told me that the French development agency AfD (Agence Française de Développement) was the lead agency responsible for due diligence and safeguarding at Ol Karia, therefore it was not responsible. Efforts to find out from the AfD how they had monitored due diligence, and to access their post-project assessment reports (if they even exist), came to nothing.

What else people told us

Most informants said the funders and companies had exploited existing divisions in the community, for example by siding with one group against another, and favouring individuals with special privileges. They complained that engagement mechanisms, such as liaison committees, created as part of the resettlement process to help PAPs engage with the companies, are deeply flawed (something the World Bank has recognised), and characterised by nepotism and bribery. Few people trust their elected community representatives, who tend to be male village elders who often shout women down. Neither do they trust the welfare society at RAPland, made up of selected “community trustees” to whom the land title was given.

Non-Maasai communities, including members of other indigenous groups, blame the Maasai for discriminating against them. One example is 54-year-old Fatuma Hitler, who claims she is discriminated against because she is a divorced Muslim Samburu; she believes this is why she wasn’t given a new house despite being a PAP. “But if I go to complain [to KenGen] I will be like a barking dog, because of this corruption.” In other words, she thinks she won’t get a hearing, and believes corruption – both within the geothermal companies and the local community – works against powerless women like her.

Eviction of the Lorropil villagers

Lorropil village, a tiny settlement commonly referred to by locals as Kambi Turkana because some of its residents were Turkana, used to lie just outside the RAPland perimeter fence on land owned by the geothermal company AGL that was excised from Kedong Ranch. After repeated threats of eviction, police swooped suddenly in the early hours of 3 November 2019, working in collusion with AGL to not only evict the villagers, but also burn the village down.

A day later, police went after the evictees and teargassed them, burning their remaining belongings. I have seen photographic evidence of all this.

Activists, lawyers and human rights defenders were alerted, and complaints made to AGL and its funders, which include the EIB. Though AGL claims it “consulted” the villagers beforehand, the villagers refute this. There was no attempt by AGL to treat them as PAPs, or to follow due process over the eviction and resettlement of squatters; several of AGL’s funders, including the EIB, have clear policies on this, which AGL did not abide by. The company accused its critics, which included me, of being “malicious liars”. It attempted to counter the allegations and buy good publicity by using local reporters to write stories favourable to AGL, which contained factual errors and painted the evictees as fraudsters and “fake squatters”. I complained to the national newspaper editors concerned about shoddy journalism; they did not respond.

The evictees (who included a number of children) ended up squatting in RAPland, where they were forced to live out in the open until a local pastor opened his church to them. Adding insult to injury, the Kenya Red Cross, alerted by villagers and their supporters, made an initial assessment a few days after the eviction, but then disappeared, failing to deliver humanitarian aid or follow up in any way. I mailed their directors, accusing them of failing to abide by the Red Cross mandate. This had an immediate effect: they swung into action. The repercussions of this eviction are ongoing; European funders of AGL are still investigating what happened.

Bankwatch report on the EIB

In a new report, “Can the EIB become the ‘EU Development Bank’? A Critical View on EIB Operations Outside Europe”, the NGOs Bankwatch and Counter Balance jointly examine EIB-funded projects in Kenya (and elsewhere) that include Olkaria IV and the Nairobi-Mombasa Road. It asks whether the EIB, which plans to “step up its development role”, is up to the task. The answer, by and large, is no. Some of the report’s key points that are relevant to this case study include:

  • The EIB “ultimately exacerbates inequalities rather than alleviates them”;
  • It makes “empty promises on human rights” and must introduce a “proper human rights due diligence system”;
  • Human rights abuses are “largely unknown” and often addressed only after they occur;
  • There is a large gap between EIB policies and implementation on the ground;
  • Its existing social standards on human rights, environmental and social principles must be replaced; they fail to prevent such things as forced eviction, or protect the most vulnerable stakeholders;
  • It has a long way to go on transparency, and lags behind the transparency and disclosure practices of other multilateral financial institutions.

The report calls the RAPland resettlement case a “scandal”. It supports my claim that the EIB uses incorrect criteria in its definition of indigenous peoples, and calls on the Bank to review this. Its case study on Ol Karia supports our research conclusions, and states: “The non-recognition of Maasai as indigenous peoples as well as several other breaches resulted in serious negative impacts on the resettled communities, which have not been fully addressed.”

In its response to Bankwatch, the EIB claims that the report contains inaccuracies, and that the Bank is “constantly improving and further developing its approach to essential issues such as human rights, environmental and social impacts…”.

And so it goes on…

As I finish writing this story, RAPland elders have sent more complaints to the funders that reiterate much of what they raised before. They are particularly upset about the failure to fully address the issue of livelihoods lost as a result of resettlement (which funders had pledged to do), and the dodgy RAPland land title.

The elders were responding to the World Bank’s “final” report of June 2020 on the progress of mediation. It maintains that “all the agreed livelihood activities have been completed”. It blames a “clerical error” on the fact that the title refers to the wrong piece of land; the Bank says it supports the PAPs’ request to convert it to freehold.

RAPland elders have sent more complaints to the funders that reiterate much of what they raised before. They are particularly upset about the failure to fully address the issue of livelihoods lost as a result of resettlement (which funders had pledged to do), and the dodgy RAPland land title.

It is clear from the report that the IEB, which insists that the Management Action Plan (MAP) for RAPland is “completed”, sees this as the end of its obligations to the PAPs; now it’s up to KenGen to resolve outstanding issues that are broader than the Bank’s MAP. But for the community (and the former Lorropil villagers, who have submitted a separate complaint to the EIB-CM), this isn’t over by a long way. To sum up community sentiments: “We feel that the banks value their business more than our lives and wellbeing,” said the RAPland resident and human rights activist Daniel Ntanana Ole Shaa.

Furthermore, plans are now underway for a new 140MW KenGen plant, Olkaria VI, on the site of the village of Olomayiana Kubwa, which lies near the four villages whose residents were moved to RAPland. This public-private partnership project will involve another forced resettlement. From reports received, there is no evidence that the company, funders and other groups involved are following due process, abiding by protocols and fully consulting the PAPs.

Have no lessons been learned? A distinct sense of déjà vu hangs over the steaming, stinking plants of Hell’s Gate.

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Dr Lotte Hughes is an historian of Kenya and empire, and a journalist, who has written extensively about Kenya. Her publications include Moving the Maasai: A Colonial Misadventure (2006). Academic profile: https://open.academia.edu/LotteHughes

Politics

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.

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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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Politics

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.

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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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Politics

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.

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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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