Golgotha: Land Injustices from Kudu to Dagoretti, to everywhere in Kenya

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On 13th October 2019, we visited a small town off Mike 46 Rd in Kudu called KMQ – Kenya Marble Quarry. It has several marble mines. Marble normally occurs where there are precious stones in the bedrock. Large excavators dig out the rock and once they have exhausted the mine, move further away from the town, leaving huge gaping holes in the earth which are dangerous to livestock and children as they can fall in and die.

We passed a small shopping Centre on our way to the administration Centre of the mine. The administration Centre has offices of the senior officials of the mine. Across the road from the Centre is a row of one storey buildings. Some had padlocks on the doors but most of them were empty. The steps on the front of the houses were made from waste marble -little flecks of white rock mixed with cement. The houses were very tiny. We entered one that had an abandoned hearth. The wall had a multiplication table, stick figures sketches of animals and a church drawn in children’s scrawl. On another wall in neat handwriting was ‘Thank you for visiting us, please come again’. There was a small window reinforced with vertical metal grills. The room looked like a prison cell. There was a thick layer of soot on the roof.

We met a man known as Kinyatu who looked like he was in his late 40s or early 50s. He lived in the last house on the row. He had cleared the land directly in front of the house to make a small kitchen garden. Kinyatu told us that he had come to KMQ from Matuu looking for work. He had anticipated that there would soon be a large population of workers as there was an Indian who had bought the land from a white man to mine on it and was in the process of fencing it.

Kinyatu told us that the little stones of all colors – white granite, brown, green rocks were all waste materials from marble mining in other counties across Kenya. Big lorries often come at night and use some of the land as a dumping site. He identified rocks from as far as Kakamega as he often migrates from County to County to work in mines. Kinyatu told us that the row of houses we were seeing once belonged to colonialists. They lived there during the periods when they were mining. The Indians now administered the mines but did not live on the site. The place reminded us of  Golgotha – likening the ruins and parched earth to the place of death in the Bible.

Most of the land in Kudu is communally owned and kept in a trust chaired by community leaders who are chosen by the people. It’s only university educated men who have been chosen as the current heads of the trust. Some of the community land can be as large as 270 acres. Greedy chairs often sell the land to private business owners who turn the land into resorts or private parks. If the land is sold to a mining company, they displace the community. This takes away the grazing land, forcing the Maasai community further and further into forested land and the hills to look for pasture. Other young men in the community start to engage in charcoal burning which is lucrative to supplement pastrolism. Greedy businessmen burn large sections of indigenous acacia forest to make charcoal. Sand harvesting is also another are of exploitation. Big lorries pass mile 46 road day and night while transporting sand to Nairobi. At night, the activity increases as the lorries ferry sand illegally without being weighed. The weight of the lorries and the destruction of indigenous plant life has loosened the soil. There are now deep galleys. The declining wildlife due to capitalist human activities will make the community vulnerable to ‘wildlife conservancies’ which are just land grabbing ploys by wealthy Europeans and their African henchmen. They will blame disenfranchised Maa community for ‘destroying’ wildlife, yet it is capitalist activities by wealthy business people that are the cause of this ecological injustice.

Women are the most disenfranchised by land injustices due to patriarchal inheritance laws. They suffer the bigger violence of this poverty and exploitation. A lot of communally owned land is being turned into private land pushing a generation of Maasai who have survived in subsistence economy and practices into the market economy.

Action Aid NGO has been in the area around mile 46 for long. The NGO has supported the construction of schools and beekeeping farms, yet little transformation seems to have occurred in the community. The population in the community has decreased due to migration of labourers from the area into the city of Nairobi as a result of the degraded environment that is robbing pastoralist communities their means of livelihoods. In spite of the presence and influence of the NGO that has built schools in the area, the community is still ignorant of their economic and social justice rights. Propertied men often sell away their land over a debt at the bar. Women are excluded from vital decision making involving land.

The Constitution of Kenya (CoK) has three categories of land: public land, community land and private land. Many cases of land injustices occur within community and public lands. For example, in Dagoretti sub – county in Nairobi we learnt during a forum hosted by Mneti Huru and Ukombozi Library last year that most of the public land had been grabbed and turned into parking areas, petrol stations, dumping sites or given to churches. The chiefs used to be custodians of public land on behalf of the office of the president. The power by chiefs to distribute land was however taken away by president Kibaki Government.

Dagoretti community has fought through generations to protect Riruta Stadium from being grabbed. In the colonial period, the stadium was used as a distribution centre for those who had been released from various colonial detention camps in the country. Those released were gathered at this point before being taken back to their homes in various parts of the country. After independence, Riruta became a settlement for landless peasants and workers who could not afford to buy land under the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ policy of president Kenyatta. The community is also fighting to reclaim community land that Jackson ‘Harvester’ Againe grabbed and sold to Shell Petrol Station that is opposite Dagoretti Empowerment Centre – another site which the community fought for and won, after it had been grabbed and sold to private developer.

From Kudu to Riruta, lack of education on land rights puts deprived communities at risk of exploitation and injustice. However, organization and political education turns these deprived communities into formidable forces for resistance and social transformation.

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