President Uhuru Kenyatta and the Jomo Kenyatta family own 500,000 thousand acres of land according to Forbes Magazine. Half a million acres! Tom Cholmondeley, the great-grandson of one of the architects of British colonial Kenya, owns a mere 58,000-acre farm. This makes his land holding a small park inside the Kenyatta estate. This in a country where “45.2 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.”
Cholmondeley in 2005 shot and killed a Kenya Wildlife Game ranger and was acquitted of murder. A year later he shot a poacher and was sentenced to 8 months in prison. The man that he shot and killed was a not a poacher in the traditional sense of the word, but rather a poverty stricken father who was out hunting wild game to feed his family.
The ICC has indicted Uhuru for crimes against humanity perpetrated during the Kenya 2007 post electoral violence. While Kenyatta’s guilt or innocence has as yet to be ascertained, the post-election violence, though run along ethnic lines, was driven by poverty and landlessness. But for Cholmondeley, the verdict is clear, kill two black Africans and you get 8 months in prison.
Place Cholmondeley alongside Kenyatta and you can clearly see the tracks of inequality that were violently laid down by colonialism and reinforced and built upon by neo-colonial regimes. And it is on these twin tracks that we are building African democracies and onto which we have piled our hopes that globalisation will bring more equality in and between nations.
The Kenya Land and Freedom Army, led by Dedan Kimathi, fought against British colonialism with no help from nationalists like Jomo Kenyatta (the first president and father of Uhuru). At a 1952 nationalist but not radical Kenya African Union (KAU) meeting, Jomo Kenyatta is quoted as saying, “He who calls us the Mau Mau is not truthful. We do not know this thing Mau Mau…I do not want people to accuse us falsely – that we steal and that we are Mau Mau.” He not only disavows the Kenya Land and Freedom Army but also associates it with criminality and banditry.
The Mau Mau struggle was for land and freedom. But the contradiction of Kenya’s independence is that those with the money to buy into Africanisation and land in the willing seller-willing buyer scheme were those who had collaborated with colonialism or who had espoused a benign nationalism. With no meaningful redistribution of land, the majority of Kenyans were locked out the neocolonial agricultural economy.
Jomo Kenyatta was to get rid of politicians who warned about the dangers of neo-colonial inequality. In 1975, his regime assassinated J.M. Kariuki, who had warned that Kenya was in danger of becoming a country of 10 millionaires and 10 million beggars. Crushing of political dissent was a practice continued by Daniel Arap Moi. Indeed the present day democracy is a hard won victory over a neo-colonial dictatorship that had refused to address colonial inequalities that had in fact punished those who spoke against the betrayal of the Mau Mau goals.
Without resolving inherited inequalities from colonialism that were legitimised and exploited by neocolonial regimes, how can African democracies have any content? Instead will they not become facades that hide gross poverty and inequalities while providing cover for the continued exploitation of labor and resources by national and global capitalism?
It seems to me a fair statement to say that as a starting principle, no one human being should own 50,000 acres when millions are suffering in abject poverty. And then be allowed to kill those who trespass on that land in search of food. And certainly no one family should own half a million acres in a country where close to 50 per cent of the population are living under the poverty line.
Continuing the tragedy of colonialism
Kimathi was hanged by the British colonial government in 1957 and buried in Kamiti Prison in an unmarked grave. He cannot be given a proper burial because the British will not reveal where they buried him. In 2002, the then Kibaki government finally lifted the colonial ban on the Mau Mau and in 2007 a statue of Kimathi was erected in Nairobi, something unimaginable under the previous regimes. Erecting a statue for a freedom fighter still buried in an unmarked grave strikes me as a contradiction that is also a metaphor for Kenya and Africa today.
By electing half-a million-acres of land presidents we are not repeating history, we are continuing its tragedy. And our hard won democracies will remain a farce. We have to dig deep enough into history and demolish the foundations of gross inequality laid out by the architects of colonial and neo-colonial economies.