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White Settlers, Black Colonialists and the Landless Majority

13 min read.

The problem of landlessness in Kenya started with the stealing of land by the British colonialists and has been perpetuated by powerful individuals in the top echelons of post-independence governments.



White Settlers, Black Colonialists and the Landless Majority
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Even as the August 2022 general election approaches, the land question remains unanswered. And with the uncertainty as to who will win the presidency, which remains the centre of power despite devolution following the enactment of the 2010 Constitution, many Kenyans who migrated to the Rift Valley are anxious.

Already, there are land invasions in parts of Laikipia, a county in the Rift Valley, targeting the farms of migrant communities and those of White settlers.

In July, the media reported that herders had driven hundreds of livestock into private ranches, sparking protests from ranch owners in Rumuruti, Mugie, Laikipia Nature Conservancy and Suiyan.

According to Laikipia County Commissioner Daniel Nyameti, the herders were from the neighbouring Baringo, Samburu and Isiolo counties in search of water and pasture for their livestock.

While the invasions were—as in previous years—blamed on prolonged drought in the neighbouring counties, there seems to be a pattern that often leads to deadly conflicts.

In the mix is bad politics, land grievances and unresolved historical land injustices. “The invasions of ranches and farms and the resultant conflict have a historical and cultural context. The herders are most of the time used to invade Laikipia with the aim of driving out land owners and ranchers and claim land for themselves,” Rumuruti resident Charles Kimani told the Nation in July.

“Politicians sometimes provide arms to the morans and pay them to raid and occupy land. This is not about pastoralists escaping drought, because sometimes even after it rains, they still remain here. This is forcible occupation of land that belongs to other people,” Kimani added.

As has been the case before, the security forces intervened.

On 28 July 2021, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i gave the herders one week to leave the farms or face forceful evictions by the police. “We are preparing a serious crackdown. It’ll be ruthless and merciless, and I plead with all illegal herders to move out within the period,” CS Matiang’i said at the Anti-Stock Theft Unit camp in Naibor in Laikipia County, where he was accompanied by the Inspector General of Police Hillary Mutyambai.

Matiang’i also appeared to blame local politicians for the violence saying, “We must put an end to this balkanization. We will not allow wananchi to be hurt due to political positions. We will immediately arrest those encouraging election rearrangements through forced movements.”

Former Laikipia North MP Mathew Lempurkel has been arrested by police on several occasions for inciting his community to invade private land to graze their animals. In 2017 Lempurkel was arrested following the murder of Tristan Voorspuy, a dual Kenyan/British national, was killed as he visited a site where two cottages had been set ablaze on the Sosian Ranch of which he was co-owner.

On 29 July Narok Senator Ledama Olekina, who comes from the pastoralist Maasai community, tweeted, “Good Morning @FredMatiangi you cannot order our people out of their ancestral lands! Those Ranchers -mostly colonials and former Government official stole our lands and you know that! Saying you will buy out own cows to ease pressure on pasture is killing our economy! No way!”

“When I become President of Kenya . . .  no single person will own more than 1,000 acres of land. All ranches in Laikipia will revert back to the original owners! Neocolonialism will end!” Olekina added.

The senator lamented that the Maasai of Laikipia have been made landless by the “British colonial and neocolonialism as well as their own government orchestrated by CS Fred Matiang’i who makes colonialists look more like philanthropists.”

The recurrent land clashes in Laikipia are just but part of a bigger problem.

Colonial land theft

The problem started with the stealing of land in the fertile areas referred to as the “White Highlands” by the British colonialists. Between 1902 and 1961, the colonial government reserved these areas exclusively for Europeans. They included Machakos, Nairobi, Thika, Mt Kenya region, Laikipia, Naivasha, Nakuru, Kericho, Sotik, Lumbwa, Songhor, Nandi, Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia and Mt Elgon.

How it happened

Towett J. Kimaiyo explains Kenya’s land policy since the colonial period in his book, Ogiek Land Cases and Historical Injustices 1902 – 2004. Kenya was declared a British Protectorate on 15 June 1895, which conferred on the British Crown political jurisdiction over the land from the Coast to the Rift Valley.

“Beyond that, the declaration of Protectorate did not confer any rights over land in the territory. Any rights over the land would have to be on the basis of conquest, agreement, treaty or sale with the indigenous people,” Kimaiyo writes.

But to overcome the problem of title to land in the territory, in 1899 the law officers of the crown advised that the Foreign Jurisdiction Act of 1890, which empowered the crown to control and dispose waste and unoccupied land with no settled forms of government and where land had been appropriated to the local sovereign individuals, be effected.

In 1901 the East African (Lands) ordinance-in-council was enacted conferring on the Commissioner of the Protectorate (later named Governor) the power to dispose of all public lands on such terms and conditions as he might think fit, Kimaiyo explains.

In effect, the land—now referred to as Crown Land—was vested in the Commissioner in trust for the British Crown.

The Crown Land Ordinance of 1902 followed suit and empowered the Commissioner to sell up 1,000 acres of Crown land in freehold to any person, or grant leases of 99 years, extended to 999 years in 1915.

The problem started with the stealing of land in the fertile areas referred to as the “White Highlands” by the British colonialists.

As a result, between 1902 and 1915, about 7.5 million acres—20 per cent of the best and most fertile land in Kenya—was reserved for the settlers as Crown Property.

In his book Kenya: A History Since Independence, Charles Hornsby explains that many of the first settlers came from the British aristocracy and military, accustomed to command, and with deeply engrained prejudices against foreigners.

“These imperial settlers were convinced that they were the natural rulers of Kenya (as of everywhere else) and that Africans were their feudal subjects,” writes Hornsby. He further observes that the inhabitants, many of them Kikuyu, resisted colonial rule but the colonialists employed large-scale violence.

History informs that between 1895 and 1908 other communities in the White Highlands, among them the Gusii, the Nandi, the Luhya, the Luo and the Teso, resisted colonial occupation. Colonialization displaced many inhabitants in the “White Highlands”, while others sold their parcels while understanding that they were merely ceding the right to use of the land.

Interestingly, the Maasai did not really resist. Why is this?

Hornsby says that 30 years before the arrival of the British colonialists, the Maasai had suffered drought, wars, and outbreaks of smallpox and rinderpest, which depopulated their land in Central Rift Valley and killed most of their cattle. They thus gave in to the colonialists and even became mercenaries for the British alongside the Kamba and the Luhya Wanga, finds Hornsby. The Maasai lost the entire Central Rift Valley.

According to John M. Lonsdale in The Politics of Conquest: the British in Western Kenya, 1894–1908, three-quarters of the alienated lands had been Maasai-controlled until 1890.

Hornsby says the British signed controversial land agreements with the Maasai, most of whom were illiterate, alienating them for colonial settlements. One of these agreements was the infamous Maasai Agreement of August 1904, a treaty signed by the colonial government and Maasai elders. The Maasai ceded possession of pastures in the Central Rift Valley in return for exclusive rights to a southern reserve in Kajiado and a northern reserve in Laikipia.

Many of the first settlers came from the British aristocracy and military, accustomed to command, and with deeply engrained prejudices against foreigners.

“The British moved the Maasai of Nakuru and Naivasha north to Laikipia ‘in perpetuity’. In 1911-13, to extend white farms and ranching north, the governor drove all 10,000 Maasai from Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia, Laikipia and Nakuru into the southern Maasai reserve, which later became Kajiado and Narok districts.”

“Both deportations were justified by agreements with [illiterate] Maasai elders but were repudiated later as having been signed under duress,” Hornsby finds.

This is what Senator Olekina means when he says the Laikipia land belongs to the Maasai. Settlers who remain in Laikipia still own large tracts of land of this alienated land.

The black colonialist

Wĩyathi na Ithaka (independence and Forests [land]) was the rallying call of the Mau Mau, the Gikuyu, Embu and Meru (Gema) resistance movement against the British.

In his Mau Mau song, Wĩyathi na Ithaka, popular Benga artist Joseph Kamaru’s says,

Our people let us join hands, this country is ours and it is our share/ µGod shower us with blessings/We don’t mind being captured, being detained, being displaced, being taken to peripheries/ But we will never stop agitating for our independence until this land sees the light/ This is a black man’s land and our hope is independence.

Therefore, when Kenya became independent in 1963, there was hope among the inhabitants, particularly those who had fought against the colonialists, that they would get their land back.

They were disappointed.

Once he became President, Jomo Kenyatta betrayed the cause of restitution and redistribution of land.

In his paper, History of Land Conflicts in Kenya, Peter Veit notes that Kenyatta maintained the system of freehold land titles and did not question how the land had been acquired. Individual private ownership rights continued to derive from the president just as in colonial times.

“Government programmes to systematically adjudicate rights and register land titles persisted and continued to undermine customary tenure systems. After independence, much of the colonial-era “Crown Land” was categorized as government land. The native reserves became Trust land, but were still governed by statutory trustees—the County Councils and the Commissioner of Lands—rather than directly by traditional institutions,” he writes.

The Kenyatta government also established the Settlement Fund Trustees to facilitate the purchase and distribution of settler farms to landless Kenyans.

The high-density settlements provided some land to landless households, but the schemes were based on a market system and principally benefited Kenyans with the financial means to purchase land, Veit observes.

This, consequently, led to the commercialization of land, inequality, corruption and the continued dispossession of those who were displaced by the colonial government. This is because those who had customarily owned the land did not have access to the necessary capital, or were rightfully against the idea of buying land they had owned.

And those who bought such land—in the Rift Valley for instance —were viewed as foreigners. These were the landless Kikuyu, Luhya, Kamba and Kalenjin who sought settlement in the under-utilised areas in the Rift Valley, the Eastern region and at the Coast.

This was the beginning of displacement under the Jomo Kenyatta regime.

It is important to note here that during the negotiations for Kenya’s independence, Kenyatta accepted the colonialists’ demands that the White settlers remain on their farms if they wished to and that land be transferred only on the basis of “willing buyer, willing seller”.

After independence, land acquisition was largely through four methods: “willing buyer, willing seller”, settlement schemes, shirika schemes (cooperative or collective farms) and land buying companies.

Settlers who remain in Laikipia still own large tracts of land of this alienated land.

These methods, Hornsby says, favoured the Kikuyu because they were richer, had easier access to loans and had more leaders in the high echelons of government. They settled primarily in Nakuru and Uasin Gishu.

Mwalimu Mati of Mars Group, one of Kenya’s leading anti-corruption and fiscal transparency watchdogs, told The Guardian that the root cause of Kenya’s land crisis is that the land was not bought by the people who lost it but by the Kikuyu elite of the time.

“That was the situation in Central Province where the Kikuyu came from. Kenyatta then settled the poor landless Kikuyu in the Rift Valley on land that had belonged to the Kalenjin,” Mati said in February 2008 at the height of the post-election violence, which was largely blamed on land grievances.

Kenyatta allowed politicians and civil servants to buy farms in Uasin Gishu and Trans Nzoia from the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) which acquired and continued to buy farms from the settlers, further contributing to inequalities in land ownership. The Ndung’u Land Report lists the ADC lands that were allocated illegally on pages 134-135.

The wealthy Gema elite, most of them in the Kenyatta government, continued to acquire the good and fertile land, triggering protests from locals, particularly the Kipsigis. Kipsigis MP Moses arap Keino is on record saying in 1973 that the Ministry of Lands and Settlement had become the Ministry of Settling the Rich. The Minister of Lands and Settlement between 1963 and 1979 was Jackson Angaine from Meru.

Kenyatta, too, bought large tracks of land.

“Kenyatta himself illegally acquired large tracts of settlement land. By 1989, “incomers” comprised 35% of the Rift Valley population. Other ethnic groups were outraged, a source of long-term ethnic animosities,” Veit writes.

The Guardian 2008 article reported,

The extended Kenyatta family alone owns an estimated 500,000 acres (2,000 sq. km). That represents a large chunk of the 28m acres (113,000 sq. km) of arable land in Kenya. The remaining 80% of the country is mostly semi-arid and arid land. The Kenya Land Alliance says more than half the arable land in the country is in the hands of only 20% of the population. Two-thirds of the people own, on average, less than an acre per person. There are 13% who own no land at all.

What were the implications?

More and more Kenyans were rendered landless and became squatters. Those who were economically able joined hands to buy their own land back from British settlers through the aforementioned means. Settlements became popular in the Rift Valley, the Coast region and Central Kenya.

In their Promised Land: Settlement Schemes in Kenya, 1962 to 2016, Catherine Boone, Fibian Lukalo and Sandra F. Joireman identify 73 schemes in the former Coast Province, 32 in Eastern Province, and 13 in Nakuru in Rift Valley Province.

They include Cherangani, Kabisi, Lugari, Kipkaren, Ndalal, Elgeyo Border, Lesos and Keben, Ainabkoi East, West and North, Kibigori, Muhoroni and Tamu, East Sotik, Sabatia, Kilombe, Ol Kalou, Wanjohi, Malewa and Kipipiri areas, South Kinangop and Njabini, Eburu, Mweiga/Amboni, Naro Moru and Warazo, Island Farms, Maragwa Ridge, Sigona Estates and Machakos (Mua Hills, Koma Rock and Lukenya).

Peasant farmers also saved and pooled resources together to buy shares in companies that bought land from settlers. Among them was Ngwataniro-Mutukanion Land Buying Company led by former Nakuru MP Kihika Kimani.

Coast region

Land as a historical injustice at the Coast is always an issue on the Kenyan presidential campaign trail during elections.

The land in the region was first grabbed by the Arabs, later by the British and by powerful individuals in post-independence governments, particularly that of Kenyatta.

“In 1970s, to help move ownership of these [beach] plots to Africans, Kenyatta issued a presidential edict that barred the sale of all beach plots without his permission. The result was to move control of these assets entirely into presidential favour, a process administered by Coast PC [Provincial Commissioner] Eliud Mahihu who could decide who could and could not buy coastal plots,” writes Hornsby.

The beach plots were taken over by top government officials, including Kenyatta, further dispossessing the inhabitants.

Quoting the Sunday Times, Hornsby says Mama Ngina bought land at the Coast to build two hotels, while Kenyatta built Leopard Beach Hotel, “which was registered in a Swiss company’s name”. In 1972, it was revealed that the Mombasa County Council had waived all rates on companies and properties owned by the Kenyatta family. 

PC Mahihu owed the Bahari Beach Hotel, while Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner Isaiah Mathenge owned The Coral Beach Hotel.

“The extended Kenyatta family alone owns an estimated 500,000 acres (2,000 sq. km). That represents a large chunk of the 28m acres (113,000 sq. km) of arable land in Kenya.”

Kenyatta also acquired large sisal farms in Taveta in 1972 jointly with the Greek Criticos family, pushing more inhabitants to become squatters.

In 2016, the Kenyatta family “voluntarily gave out” 2,000 acres of “its land” to squatters in Taita Taveta (essentially returning or relinquishing land to the original owners).

Reacting to the move, Raila Odinga—then Opposition leader and now President Uhuru Kenyatta’s ally—said the president should issue more than 2,000 acres.

According to Fr Gabriel Dolan, a human rights activist, hundreds of families were evicted from Gicheha farm in 2018 —land believed to be the property of the Kenyatta family—and resettled on adjacent land popularly known as Sir Ramson land. This became the Ziwani Settlement Scheme in Taveta Sub-county.

There is also the unpopular Lake Kenyatta Settlement Scheme formed in 1973 in the Coast region.

By 1979, Lamu District – now Lamu County – had an 80 per cent population increase, among them nearly 10,000 Kikuyu (including ex-Mau Mau veterans), says Hornsby. The indigenous Bajuni ended up becoming the minority as the Kikuyu became more influential economically and politically.

In a brief for the Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre, David M. Anderson notes that this caused tension between the immigrants and the indigenous local community during the 2013 elections.

“Candidates representing the outsiders at Mpeketoni did well, supported by a well-financed campaign. Local Bajuni feared that their interest might be sacrificed to the entrepreneurial skills of these outsiders,” Anderson writes in Why Mpeketoni Matters: al-Shabaab and violence in Kenya.

A year later, in June 2014, came the Mpeketoni attack in which at least 60 people, mostly men, were massacred by al-Shabaab militants.

The Ministry of Lands and Settlement had become the Ministry of Settling the Rich.

Anderson writes, “Mpeketoni was a legitimate target. The victims were not Muslim, and none were local Bajuni people: those killed were Kikuyu from the far-distant highlands of central Kenya, members of families that had come to Mpeketoni in the early 1970s, taking up land on a government settlement scheme. Mostly Christian, they were in every respect “outsiders” in this coastal district.”

It was not the first spate of violence in the area. In the run-up to the 1997 elections, violence erupted at the Coast, killing over 100 people and displacing over 100,000, mostly pro-opposition up-country people. At the time, the Kikuyu were in the opposition.

Incidents of violence sparked by the land issue are arguably a consequence of these inequalities, grabbing and disenfranchisement. And while the violence that followed in the wake of the 2007 election is widely viewed as the worst, the 1992 land clashes were in reality far worse.

In those clashes that took place between late 1991 and December 1992, at the height of the general election, some 5,000 people were killed and another 75,000 displaced in the Rift Valley Province, with the Molo area being the epicentre of the violence.

According to the Kenya Human Rights Commission, between 1991 and 1996, over 15,000 people died and almost 300,000 were displaced in the Rift Valley, Nyanza and Western Provinces by politically instigated violence.

The clashes were largely between the Kalenjin and the Kikuyu, with land ownership cited as one of the key triggers.

Commissions of Inquiry

After he came to power in 2002, President Mwai Kibaki, who won the election on an anti-corruption platform, formed the [Paul] Ndung’u Land Commission, a Commission of Inquiry into the Illegal/Irregular Allocation of Public Land, in June 2003.

In its report, the Ndung’u Land Commission found that President Kenyatta and his successor, Daniel arap Moi, who had been his Vice-President, abused their presidential powers by grabbing land and that there had been “unbridled plunder”.

The 20-member commission found that in many instances, presidents Kenyatta and Moi made land grants to individuals without any consideration of the public interest, for political reasons, and without proper pursuit of legal procedures, whilst there was also extensive illegal allocation of alienated land. An accusing finger was also pointed at Commissioners of Land for various illegalities.

Among other recommendations, the commission directed that all illegal allocations of public utility land be nullified, and that such lands be repossessed and restored to the purpose for which they were intended and the culprits be prosecuted.

The report is yet to be implemented.

The report of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) also found that the colonial administration used irregular and/or illegal methods to acquire land from the Kenyan inhabitants.

It was revealed that the Mombasa County Council had waived all rates on companies and properties owned by the Kenyatta family.

The report also found that top officials in the post-independence government of President Kenyatta turned the settlement schemes into cartels for their own benefit.

The report said the officials bought land in the Rift Valley, and in other parts of the so-called White Highlands, and in the process swindled communities that were supposed to benefit from the settlement schemes after having been displaced by the British.

It also identified the “willing buyer, willing seller” policy as one that exacerbated the problem.

The TJRC found that there is a close link between land injustices and ethnic violence in Kenya, and that the failure by successive governments to address landlessness has caused individuals and communities to turn to violence. Landlessness has in previous cases, such as in 1992 and 2007, been used as a political tool, causing further displacements.

The TJRC report was published in May 2013 and tabled in the National Assembly in July 2013 but there has not been any substantive progress, mainly because of lack of political will and also because those identified as responsible for the injustices are politicians occupying top government positions.

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Eliud Kibii is a sub-editor with The Star newspaper and writes on international relations, security and electoral processes.


Lagos From Its Margins: Everyday Experiences in a Migrant Haven

From its beginnings as a fishing village, Lagos has grown into a large metropolis that attracts migrants seeking opportunity or Internally Displaced Persons fleeing violence.



Lagos From Its Margins: Everyday Experiences in a Migrant Haven
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Lagos, City of Migrants

From its origins as a fishing village in the 1600s, Lagos has urbanised stealthily into a vast metropolis, wielding extensive economic, political and cultural influence on Nigeria and beyond. Migration in search of opportunities has been the major factor responsible for the demographic and spatial growth of the city as Lagos has grown from 60,221 in 1872 to over 23 million people today. The expansion of the city also comes with tensions around indigene-settler dynamics, especially in accessing land, political influence and urban resources. There are also categories of migrants whose status determines if they can lay hold of the “urban advantage” that relocating to a large city offers.

A major impetus to the evolution of modern Lagos is the migration of diverse groups of people from Nigeria’s hinterland and beyond. By the 1800s, waves of migrants (freed slaves) from Brazil and Freetown had made their way to Lagos, while many from Nigeria’s hinterland including the Ekiti, Nupes, Egbas and Ijebus began to settle in ethnic enclaves across the city. In the 1900s, migrant enclaves were based on socio-economic and/or ethnicity status. Hausas (including returnees from the Burma war) settled in Obalende and Agege, while the Ijaw and Itsekiri settled in waterfront communities around Ajegunle and Ijora. International migrant communities include the Togolese, Beninoise and Ghanaian, as well as large communities of Lebanese and Indian migrants. The names and socio-cultural mix in most Lagos communities derive from these historical migrant trajectories.

Permanent temporalities

A study on coordinated migrations found that, as a destination city, Lagos grew 18.6 per cent between 2000 and 2012, with about 96 per cent of the migrants coming from within Nigeria. While migration to Lagos has traditionally been in search of economic opportunities, new classes of migrants have emerged over the last few decades. These are itinerant migrants and internally displaced persons.

Itinerant migrants are those from other areas of Nigeria and West Africa who travel to work in Lagos while keeping their families back home. Mobility cycles can be weekly, monthly or seasonal. Such migrants have no address in Lagos as they often sleep at their work premises or in mosques, saving all their earned income for remittance. They include construction artisans from Benin and Togo who come to Lagos only when they have jobs, farmers from Nigeria’s northern states who come to Lagos to work as casual labourers in between farming seasons (see box), as well as junior staff in government and corporate offices whose income is simply too small to cover the high cost of living in Lagos.

While people from Nigeria’s hinterland continue to arrive in the city in droves, the wave of West African in-migration has ebbed significantly. This is mostly because of the economic challenges Nigeria is currently facing that have crashed the Naira-to-CFA exchange rates. As a result, young men from Togo, Ghana and Benin are finding cities like Dakar and Banjul more attractive than Lagos.

Photo. Taibat Lawanson

Photo. Taibat Lawanson

Aliu* aka Mr Bushman, from Sokoto, Age 28

Aliu came to Lagos in 2009 on the back of a cattle truck. His first job was in the market carrying goods for market patrons. He slept in the neighbourhood mosque with other young boys. Over the years, he has done a number of odd jobs including construction work. In 2014, he started to work as a commercial motorcyclist (okada) and later got the opportunity to learn how to repair them. He calls himself an engineer and for the past four years has earned his income exclusively from riding and repairing okada. Even though he can afford to rent a room, he currently lives in a shared shack with seven other migrants.

He makes between N5000 and N8000 weekly and sends most of it to his family through a local transport operator who goes to Sokoto weekly. His wife and three children are in the village, but he would rather send them money than bring them to Lagos. According to him, “The life in Lagos is too hard for women”.

Since he came to Lagos thirteen years ago, Aliu has never spent more than four months away from Sokoto at a time. He stays in Sokoto during the rainy season to farm rice, maize and guinea corn, and has travelled back home to vote every time since he came to Lagos.


The second category of migrants are those who have been displaced from their homesteads in Northern Nigeria by conflict, either Boko Haram insurgency or invasions by Fulani herdsmen. The crises have resulted in the violent destruction of many communities, with hundreds of thousands killed and many more forced to flee. With many who initially settled in camps for Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) dissatisfied with camp conditions, the burden of protracted displacement is now spurring a new wave of IDP migration to urban areas. Even though empirical data on the exact number of displaced persons migrating out of camps to cities is difficult to ascertain, it is obvious that this category of migrants are negotiating their access to the city and its resources in circumstances quite different from those of other categories of migrants.

IDPs as the emerging migrant class in Lagos 

According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, two of every three internally displaced persons globally are now living in cities. Evidence from Nigeria suggests that many IDPs are migrating to urban areas in search of relative safety and resettlement opportunities, with Lagos estimated to host the highest number of independent IDP migrants in the country. In moving to Lagos, IDPs are shaping the city in a number of ways including appropriating public spaces and accelerating the formation of new settlements.

There are three government-supported IDP camps in the city, with anecdotal evidence pointing to about eighteen informal IDP shack communities across the city’s peri-urban axis. This correlates with studies from other cities that highlight how this category of habitations (as initial shelter solutions for self-settled IDPs) accelerate the formation of new urban informal settlements and spatial agglomerations of poverty and vulnerability.

While people from Nigeria’s hinterland continue to arrive in the city in droves, the wave of West African in-migration has ebbed significantly.

IDPs in Lagos move around a lot. Adamu, who currently lives in Owode Mango—a shack community near the Lagos Free Trade zone—and has been a victim of forced eviction four times said, “As they [government or land owners] get ready to demolish this place and render us homeless again, we will move to another area and live there until they catch up with us.”

In the last ten years, there has been an increase in the number of homeless people on the streets of Lagos—either living under bridges, in public parks or incomplete buildings. Many of them are IDPs who are new migrants, and unable to access the support necessary to ease their entry into the city’s established slums or government IDP camps. Marcus, who came from Adamawa State in 2017 and has been living under the Obalende Bridge for five years, said, “I am still managing, living under the bridge. I won’t do this forever, my life will not end like this under a bridge. I hope to one day return to my home and continue my life”.

Blending in or not: Urban integration strategies 

Urban integration can be a real challenge for IDP migrants. Whereas voluntary migrants are often perceived to be legal entrants to the city and so can lay claim to urban resources, the same cannot be said about IDPs. Despite being citizens, and despite Nigeria being a federation, IDPs do not have the same rights as other citizens in many Nigerian cities and constantly face stigmatisation and harassment, which reinforces their penchant for enclaving.

The lack of appropriate documentation and skillsets also denies migrants full entry into the socio-economic system. For example, Rebekah said: “I had my WAEC [Senior Secondary school leaving certificate] results and when Boko Haram burnt our village, our family lost everything including my certificates. But how can I continue my education when I have not been able to get it? I have to do handwork [informal labour] now”. IDP children make up a significant proportion of out-of-school children in Lagos as many are unable to get registered in school simply because of a lack of address.

Most IDPs survive by deploying social capital—especially ethnic and religious ties. IDP ethnic groupings are quite organized; most belong to an ethnic-affiliated group and consider this as particularly beneficial to their resettlement and sense of identity in Lagos. Adamu from Chibok said, “When I come to Lagos in 2017, I come straight to Eleko. My brother [kinsman] help me with house, and he buy food for my family. As I no get work, he teach me okada work wey he dey do.”

The crises have resulted in the violent destruction of many communities, with hundreds of thousands killed and many more forced to flee.

Interestingly, migration to the city can also be good for women as many who were hitherto unemployed due to cultural barriers are now able to work. Mary who fled Benue with her family due to farmer-herder clashes explained, “When we were at home [in Benue], I was assisting my husband with farming, but here in Lagos, I have my own small shop where I sell food. Now I have my own money and my own work.”

Need for targeted interventions for vulnerable Lagosians

“Survival of the fittest” is an everyday maxim in the city of Lagos. For migrants, this is especially true as they are not entitled to any form of structured support from the government. Self-settlement is therefore daunting, especially in light of systemic limiting factors.

Migrants are attracted to big cities based on perceived economic opportunities, and with limited integration, their survival strategies are inevitably changing the spatial configurations of Lagos. While the city government is actively promoting urban renewal, IDP enclaving is creating new slums. Therefore, addressing the contextualised needs of urban migrant groups is a sine qua non for inclusive and sustainable urban development.

“I am still managing, living under the bridge. I won’t do this forever, my life will not end like this under a bridge. I hope to one day return to my home and continue my life”.

There is an established protocol for supporting international refugees. However, the same cannot be said for IDPs who are Nigerian citizens. They do not enjoy structured support outside of camps, and we have seen that camps are not an effective long-term solution to displacement. There is a high rate of IDP mobility to cities like Lagos, which establishes the fact that cities are an integral part of the future of humanitarian crisis. Their current survival strategies are not necessarily harnessing the urban advantage, especially due to lack of official recognition and documentation. It is therefore imperative that humanitarian frameworks take into account the role of cities and also the peculiarities of IDP migrations to them.

Lagos remains a choice destination city and there is therefore need to pay more attention to understanding the patterns, processes and implications of migration into the city. The paucity of migration-related empirical data no doubt inhibits effective planning for economic and social development. Availability of disaggregated migration data will assist the state to develop targeted interventions for the various categories of vulnerable Lagosians.  Furthermore, targeted support for migrant groups must leverage existing social networks, especially the organised ethnic and religious groups that migrants lean on for entry into the city and for urban integration.

*All names used in this article are pseudonyms

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It’s a Nurses’ Market Out There, and Kenyans Are Going For It

Nurses are central to primary healthcare and unless Kenya makes investments in a well-trained, well supported and well-paid nursing workforce, nurses will continue to leave and the country is unlikely to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals in the area of health and wellbeing for all.



It’s a Nurses’ Market Out There, and Kenyans Are Going For It
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Nancy* is planning to leave Kenya. She wants to go to the United States where the nursing pastures are supposedly greener. I first met Nancy when the country was in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic that tested Kenya’s healthcare system to breaking point. She was one of a cohort of recently graduated nurses that were hastily recruited by the Ministry of Health and thrown in at the deep end of the pandemic. Nancy earns KSh41,000 net with no other benefits whatsoever, unlike her permanent and pensionable colleagues.

When the then Labour and Social Protection Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui announced in early September 2021 that the government would be sending 20,000 nurses to the United Kingdom to help address the nursing shortage in that country, Nancy saw her chance. But her hopes were dashed when she failed to raise the KSh90,000 she needed to prepare and sit for the English language and nursing exams that are mandatory for foreign-trained nurses. Nancy would also have needed to pay the Nursing Council of Kenya KSh12,000 for the verification of her documents, pay the Kenya Medical Training College she attended KSh1,000 in order to get her exam transcripts, and apply for a passport, the minimum cost of which is KSh4,550 excluding the administrative fee. Nancy says that, contrary to then Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe’s disputed claims that a majority of applicants to the programme had failed the English language test, most nurses simply could not afford the cost of applying.

Of the targeted 20,000 nurses, the first 19 left Kenya for the UK in June 2022. But even that paltry figure represents a significant loss for Kenya, a country where the ratio of practicing nurses to the population is 11.66 per 10,000. The WHO considers countries with less than 40 nurses and midwives for every 10,000 people to not have enough healthcare professionals. Nearly 60 per cent of all healthcare professionals (medical physicians, nursing staff, midwives, dentists, and pharmacists) in the world are nurses, making them by far the most prevalent professional category within the health workforce. Nurses offer a wide range of crucial public health and care services at all levels of healthcare facilities as well as within the community, frequently serving as the first and perhaps the only healthcare provider that people see.

Kenya had 59,901 nurses/midwives in 2018, rising to 63,580 in 2020. Yet in 2021, Kenya was proposing to send almost a third of them to the UK to “address a shortfall of 62,000 in that country”.

The growing shortage of nurses in the UK has been blamed on the government’s decision to abolish bursaries and maintenance grants for nursing students in 2016, leading to a significant drop in the number of those applying to train as nurses. Consequently, the annual number of graduate nurses plummeted, reaching the current low of 31 nurses per 100,000 people, below the European average of 36.6 and half as many as in countries like Romania (96), Albania (82) and Finland (82). Facing pressure to recruit 50,000 nurses amid collapsing services and closures of Accident & Emergency, maternity and chemotherapy units across the country, the UK government decided to once again cast its net overseas. Established in 1948, the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) has relied on foreign healthcare workers ever since staff from the Commonwealth were first brought in to nurse back to health a nation fresh out of the Second World War.

The UK government’s press release announcing the signing of the Bilateral Agreement with Kenya states that the two countries have committed  “to explore working together to build capacity in Kenya’s health workforce through managed exchange and training” and goes as far as to claim that “with around only 900 Kenyan staff currently in the NHS, the country has an ambition to be the ‘Philippines of Africa’ — with Filipino staff one of the highest represented overseas countries in the health service — due to the positive economic impact that well-managed migration can have on low to middle income countries.”

It is a dubious ambition, if indeed it has been expressed. The people of the Philippines do not appear to be benefiting from the supposed increase in capacity that the exchange and training is expected to bring. While 40,000 of their nurses worked in the UK’s National Health Service last year, back home, according to Filipino Senator Sonny Angara, “around 7 of 10 Filipinos die without ever seeing a health professional and the nurse to patient ratio in our hospitals remains high at 1:50 up to 1:802”.

Since 2003 when the UK and the government of the Philippines signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the recruitment of Filipino healthcare professionals, an export-led industry has grown around the training of nurses in the Philippines that has attracted the increased involvement of the private sector. More nursing institutions — that have in reality become migrant institutions — are training nurses specifically for the overseas market, with the result that skills are matched to Western diseases and illnesses, leaving the country critically short of healthcare personnel. Already, in 1999, Filipino doctors had started retraining as nurses and leaving the country in search of better pay.

It is difficult, then, to see how the Philippines is an example to emulate. Unless, of course, beneath the veneer of “partnership and collaboration in health”, lies the objective of exporting Kenyan nurses with increased diaspora remittances in mind – Kenyans in the UK sent KSh28.75 billion in the first nine months of 2022, or nearly half what the government has budgeted for the provision of universal health care to all Kenyans. If that is the case, how that care is to be provided without nurses is a complete mystery.

Already in 1999, Filipino doctors had started retraining as nurses and leaving the country in search of better pay.

For the UK, on the other hand, importing nurses trained in Kenya is a very profitable deal. Whereas the UK government “typically spends at least £26,000, and sometimes far more, on a single nurse training post”, it costs only £10,000 to £12,000 to recruit a nurse from overseas, an externalization of costs that commodifies nurses, treating them like goods to be bought and sold.

However, in agreeing to the terms of the trade in Kenyan nurses, the two governments are merely formalizing the reality that a shortage of nurses in high-income countries has been driving the migration of nurses from low-income countries for over two decades now. Along with Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe, Kenya is one of the top 20 countries of origin of foreign-born or foreign-trained nurses working in the countries of the OECD, of which the UK is a member state.

Faced with this reality, and in an attempt to regulate the migration of healthcare workers, the World Health Assembly adopted the WHO Global Code of Practice on the Recruitment of Health Personnel in May 2010. The code, the adherence to which is voluntary, “provides ethical principles applicable to the international recruitment of health personnel in a manner that strengthens the health systems of developing countries, countries with economies in transition and small island states.”

Article 5 of the code encourages recruiting countries to collaborate with the sending countries in the development and training of healthcare workers and discourages recruitment from developing countries facing acute shortages. Given the non-binding nature of the code, however, and “the severe global shortage of nurses”, resource-poor countries, which carry the greatest disease burden globally, will continue to lose nurses to affluent countries. Wealthy nations will inevitably continue luring from even the poorest countries nurses in search of better terms of employment and better opportunities for themselves and their families; Haiti is on the list of the top 20 countries supplying the OECD region.

“Member States should discourage active recruitment of health personnel from developing countries facing critical shortages of health workers.”

Indeed, an empirical evaluation of the code four years after its adoption found that the recruitment of health workers has not undergone any substantial policy or regulatory changes as a direct result of its introduction. Countries had no incentive to apply the code and given that it was non-binding, conflicting domestic healthcare concerns were given the priority.

The UK’s Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has developed its own code of practice under which the country is no longer recruiting nurses from countries that the WHO recognizes as facing health workforce challenges. Kenya was placed on the UK code’s amber list on 11 November 2021, and active recruitment of health workers to the UK was stopped “with immediate effect” unless employers had already made conditional offers to nurses from Kenya on or before that date. Presumably, the Kenyan nurses who left for the UK in June 2022 fall into this category.

In explaining its decision, the DHSC states that “while Kenya is not on the WHO Health Workforce Support & Safeguards List, it remains a country with significant health workforce challenges. Adding Kenya to the amber list in the Code will protect Kenya from unmanaged international recruitment which could exacerbate existing health and social care workforce shortages.”

The WHO clarifies that nothing in its Code of Practice should be interpreted as curtailing the freedom of health workers to move to countries that are willing to allow them in and offer them employment. So, even as the UK suspends the recruitment of Kenyan nurses, they will continue to find opportunities abroad as long as Western countries continue to face nurse shortages. Kenyan nurses will go to the US where 203,000 nurses will be needed each year up to 2026, and to Australia where the supply of nursing school graduates is in decline, and to Canada where the shortage is expected to reach 117,600 by 2030, and to the Republic of Ireland which is now totally dependent on nurses recruited from overseas and where working conditions have been described as “horrendous”.

“Adding Kenya to the amber list in the Code will protect Kenya from unmanaged international recruitment which could exacerbate existing health and social care workforce shortages.”

Like hundreds of other Kenyan-trained nurses then, Nancy will take her skills overseas. She has found a recruitment agency through which to apply for a position abroad and is saving money towards the cost. She is not seeking to move to the UK, however; Nancy has been doing her research and has concluded that the United States is a much better destination given the more competitive salaries compared to the UK where nurses have voted to go strike over pay and working conditions. When she finally gets to the US, Nancy will join Diana*, a member of the over 90,000-strong Kenyan diaspora, more than one in four of whom are in the nursing profession.

Now in her early 50s, Diana had worked for one of the largest and oldest private hospitals in Nairobi for more than 20 years before moving to the US in 2017. She had on a whim presented her training certificates to a visiting recruitment agency that had set up shop in one of Nairobi’s high-end hotels and had been shortlisted. There followed a lengthy verification process for which the recruiting agency paid all the costs, requiring Diana to only sign a contract binding her to her future US employer for a period of two years once she had passed the vetting process.

Speaking from her home in Virginia last week, Diana told me that working as a nurse in the US “is not a bed of roses”, that although the position is well paying, it comes with a lot of stress. “The nurse-to-patient ratio is too high and the job is all about ticking boxes and finishing tasks, with no time for the patients,” she says, adding that in such an environment fatal mistakes are easily made. Like the sword of Damocles, the threat of losing her nursing licence hangs over Diana’s head every day that she takes up her position at the nursing station.

“The nurse-to-patient ratio is too high and the job is all about ticking boxes and finishing tasks, with no time for the patients.”

Starting out as an Enrolled Nurse in rural Kenya, Diana had over the years improved her skills, graduating as a Registered Nurse before acquiring a Batchelor of Science in Nursing from a top private university in Kenya, the tuition for which was partially covered by her employer.

Once in the US, however, her 20 years of experience counted for nothing and she was employed on the same footing as a new graduate nurse, as is the case for all overseas nurses moving to the US to work. Diana says that, on balance, she would have been better off had she remained at her old job in Kenya where the care is better, the opportunities for professional growth are greater and the work environment well controlled. But like many who have gone before her, Diana is not likely to be returning to Kenya any time soon.

*Names have been changed.

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Why Azimio’s Presidential Petition Stood No Chance

In so far as the court had nullified the 2017 elections, the evidential threshold required for any subsequent electoral nullification was going to be substantially high for any petitioner.



Why Azimio’s Presidential Petition Stood No Chance
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Even before the 9 August general election, it was expected that the loser of the Kenyan presidential contest would petition the Supreme Court to arbitrate over the outcome. Predictably, the losing party, Azimio La Umoja-One Kenya Coalition, petitioned the court to have William Ruto’s win nullified on various procedural and technical grounds. Azimio’s case was predicated on, among others, three key allegations. First, that William Ruto failed to garner the requisite 50 per cent plus one vote. Second, that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) chairman Wafula Chebukati had announced the outcome without tallying and verifying results from seven constituencies. Finally, that the commission could not account for 250,000 votes that were cast electronically.

As we know, Azimio lost the case as the judges dismissed all the nine petitions that the party had filed, unanimously finding that William Ruto had won fairly.

Adjudicating electoral fallouts

Since its inception in 2010, the Supreme Court has played a decisive role in adjudicating fallouts linked to contentious presidential politics in Kenya, with the court deliberating on the outcome of three out of the four presidential elections held after its inauguration. Prior to this, the losing party had no credible institutional mechanism of redress and electoral disputes were generally resolved through mass political action (as in 2007) or consistent questioning of the legitimacy of the winner (as in 1992 and 1997).

The Supreme Court’s presence has, therefore, been crucial in providing losers with an institutionalised mechanism to channel dissent, with the court operating as a “safety valve” to diffuse political tensions linked to presidential elections. It is, hence, impossible to conceive of the relatively peaceful elections held in 2013, 2017 and 2022 without the Supreme Court whose mere presence has been key in discouraging some of the more deadly forms of political rivalry previously witnessed in Kenya.

Relentless petitioning

While the Azimio leadership were right to petition the court in the recent election, first because this successfully diffused the political tensions among their supporters, and second because the court was expected to provide directions on IEBC conduct in future elections, it was clear that Raila Odinga’s relentless petitioning of the court in the previous two elections, and the nullification of the 2017 elections, was in essence going to be a barrier to a successful petition in 2022.

In so far as the court had nullified the 2017 elections, the evidential threshold required for any subsequent electoral nullification was going to be substantially high for any petitioner. The relentless petitioning of the court and the nullification of the 2017 elections had in essence raised the bar for the burden of proof, which lay with the petitioner(s) and, therefore, reduced the probability of a successful petition.

The Supreme Court’s presence has been crucial in providing losers with an institutionalised mechanism to channel dissent.

The reason for this is both legal and political. Legal in the sense that the IEBC is expected to conduct the elections under the law, which, among other issues, requires that the electoral process be credible and the results verifiable before any certification is made, otherwise the election is nullified, as was the case in 2017. It is political because the power to select the president is constitutionally, hence politically, delegated to the Kenyan people through the ballot, unless electoral fraud infringes on this, again as was the case in 2017.

The court in its deliberation must, therefore, balance the legal-political trade-off in its verdict in search of a plausible equilibrium. For instance, while the majority of Azimio supporters had anticipated a successful petition based on the public walkout and dissent by the four IEBC commissioners, it seems that the decision to uphold the results displayed the court’s deference to political interpretation of the law by issuing a ruling that did not undermine the Kenyan voters’ right to elect their president.

While the settlement of legal-political disputes by a Supreme/Constitutional court is a common feature across democracies, and continuously being embedded in emerging democracies like Kenya, it does seem that in this election, the political motivations for upholding the vote outweighed the legal motivations for nullifying it. In essence, the court demonstrated its institutional independence by ruling against the Kenyatta-backed Azimio candidate due to insufficient evidence.

Supreme Court power grab 

A counterfactual outcome where the evidential threshold for the nullification of presidential results is low would foster a Supreme Court power grab, in lieu with the 2017 nullification, by marginalising the sovereign will of Kenyans to elect their president.

In many ways, nullification of the results would also have incentivised further adversarial political behaviour where every electoral outcome is contested in the Supreme Court even when the outcome is relatively clean, as in the case of the 2022 elections.

It is this reason (among others) that we think underlined the Supreme Court justices’ dismissal of Azimio’s recent petition. The justices ultimately dismissed the evidence presented by the petitioners as “hot air, outright forgeries, red herring, wild goose chase and unproven hypotheses”, setting a clear bar for the standard of evidence they expect in order to deliberate over such an important case in the future.

In essence, the court demonstrated its institutional independence by ruling against the Kenyatta-backed Azimio candidate due to insufficient evidence.

Since the earth-shaking nullification of the 2017 elections, the Supreme Court transcended an epoch, more political than legal by “invading” the sovereign space for Kenyans to elect their president, thereof setting a precedence that any future successful petition to contest a presidential election requires watertight evidence.

In a sense, Azimio were victims of Odinga’s judicial zealotry and especially the successful 2017 petition. In so far as the evidence submitted to the Supreme Court by Azimio in 2022 was at the same level or even lower than the 2017 base, their case at the Supreme Court was very likely to be dismissed and even ridiculed as the justices recently did.

The precedent set by the 2022 ruling will, actually, yield two positive political outcomes. First, it will in the future weed out unnecessary spam petitions that lack evidence and rather increase needless political tensions in the country. Second, it has signalled to future petitioners, that serious deliberations will only be given to petitions backed by rock-solid evidence.

Missed opportunity

From the recent ruling, it is evident that the judgement fell far below the precedent set in 2017. The 2017 Supreme Court ruling that the IEBC should make the servers containing Form 34A publicly available, was crucial in improving the credibility of the 2022 elections, by democratising the tallying process. At a minimum, the expectation was that the justices would provide a directive on the recent public fallout among the IEBC commissioners with regard to future national tallying and announcement of presidential results.

By dismissing the fallout as a mere corporate governance issue, the justices failed to understand the political ramifications of the “boardroom rupture”. What are we to do in the future if the IEBC Chair rejects the results and the other commissioners validate the results as credible?

Additionally, by ridiculing the petitioners as wild goose chasers and dismissing the evidence as “hot air”, the justices failed to maintain the amiable judicial tone necessary to decompress and assuage the bitter grievances among losers in Kenya high-octane political environment.

In a sense, Azimio were victims of Mr Odinga’s judicial zealotry and especially the 2017 successful petition.

The Supreme Court ought to resist the temptations of trivializing electoral petitions, as this has the potential of triggering democratic backsliding, where electoral losers might opt for extra-constitutional means of addressing their grievances as happened in December 2007. It is not in the petitioners’ place to ascertain whether their evidence is “hot air” or not, but for the court to do so, and in an amiable judicial tone that offers reconciliation in a febrile political environment.

The precedent set by the 2017 ruling that clarified the ambiguities related to the IEBC’s use of technology to conduct elections, set an incremental pathway towards making subsequent elections credible and fair, and increased public trust in the key electoral institutions in Kenya.

The justices, therefore, need to understand that their deliberations hold weight in the public eye and in the eyes of political leaders. Therefore, outlining recommendations to improve the IEBC’s conduct in future elections is a bare minimum expectation among Kenyans. In this case, while they provided some recommendations, they failed to comprehensively address the concerns around the walk-out by the four IEBC commissioners.

At the minimum, chastising the IEBC conduct was necessary to consolidate the electoral gains made thus far but also recalibrate institutional imperfections linked to how elections are to be conducted and, especially, contestations around the role of the commissioners in the national tallying of results in the future.

This article is part of our project on information and voter behaviour in the 2022 Kenyan elections. The project is funded by the Centre for Governance and Society, Department of Political Economy, King’s College London.

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