Africa Matters is a blog that follows the news and offers analysis of African affairs. Our aim is to delve deeper into the issues of African politics and development. We don’t presume to be experts, and we don’t presume to have all the answers—we are just trying to ask the right questions.

Tuesday, January 29

Land disputes and the deteriorating situation in Kenya

The situation in Kenya took a turn for the worse last night when opposition Orange Democratic Movement MP Mr. Mugabe Were was murdered. Mr. Were (right) was shot outside his home in Nairobi as he was returning home just after midnight. It is unclear if the murder was political or was related to a car jacking or robbery attempt. However, ODM supporters in Nairobi, specifically Mr. Were's Embakasi constituency, and in Kisumu and Eldoret, are protesting today.

Despite Kofi Annan's progress in bringing together the sworn-in president Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga, violence continues to escalate in Kenya. The East African Standard reported that transportation is paralyzed in Kenya, and that two German tourists were killed in Mombasa over the weekend, although again it is unclear if their deaths were related to a robbery. Since the elections no westerners have been harmed due to violence specifically related to politics in Kenya.

Violence also erupted in the formerly peaceful towns of Naivasha and Nakuru over the weekend. Located on a lake with plentiful wildlife nearby, Naivasha and Nakuru are popular weekend get-a-way destinations from Nairobi.

One causal factor that has not been discussed much in the media is the role of land disputes in spurring violence in Kenya. According to many Kenyans, the violence in Naivasha and Nakuru relates to conflicts over land that date back to colonialism. People from Kalinjin, Luo, Masai, and other tribes allege that Kikuyus stole their land. Many Kikuyus who were forced from their homes in the Mt. Kenya region by white colonialists resettled in the Rift Valley. Kikuyus often purchased the land, but now the authenticity of land deeds from the post-independence period is being questioned. Some people are taking advantage of the violence to claim back land they feel rightfully belongs to their people– even though it has been nearly 50 years since Kikuyus settled in the Rift Valley. Kikuyus are responding to attempted land grabs and previous violence with gruesome revenge killings in Rift Valley towns such as Naivasha and Nakuru.

Land disputes are related to economic and political divides in Kenya. Unfortunately the land issues, economic inequality, and political affiliation are all partitioned along tribal lines. In Kenya, where each geographic area is tribally homogeneous, ethnicity cannot be divorced from resource disputes. If land reclamation continues and spreads to other parts of the country, the IDP crisis is likely to be exacerbated. Violence over land is another example of how all the underlying fractures among Kenyans–divides over wealth, politics, age, access to resources, and tribes– are coming to the surface in the chaotic period of frustration and rampant violence.