Kenya: Forceful evictions of Maasai from Narasha a recipe for ethnic clashes
Kenya was at it a month ago when a three-decade land ownership dispute, pitting the Maasai and Kikuyu in Naivasha took an ugly turn.
Reminiscent of the post elections violence of 2008, over 200 youths believed to be members of the proscribed sect Mungiki, under the escort of heavily armed police men, descended on the Maasai community in Narasha with all manner of crude weapons and destroyed 240 houses.
The youths rendered over two thousand families homeless, killed about 20 calves and over 600 lambs. During the raid, two elderly Maasai men sustained bullet wounds.
Narasha is home and ancestral land of the Maasai, who have suffered massive land dispossession dating back to 1900, when the colonial government forced the Maasai out of 75 % of their ancestral land. Subsequent post-independence government initiatives have further alienated land from the Maasai.
At the center of the conflict is the over 15,000-acreage land that the Maasai claim ancestral ownership, while the Kikuyu claim ownership resulting from allocation by President Jomo Kenyatta. The land in contention is rich with geothermal power and, naturally, many government functionaries want a piece of it.
Narasha village is sitting on this vast lucrative natural resource and is proving an obstacle to several deal makers including senior government officials, businessmen and energy giant KenGen. The Geothermal project has attracted multi-national and bilateral donors with the World Bank being the main financier of the project.
Kenya’s energy giant; KenGen, is at the center of the problems facing the Maasai people in Olkaria. The company is behind the anticipated 560 megawatts project.
If this goes through, this will be the largest geothermal project in the world. The Ksh165 billion (US$2 billion) project will require expansion beyond the current land that KenGen’s wells occupy in Olkaria.
Narasha community is yoked in the middle of the areas earmarked for the new geothermal wells. KenGen has for the last few years been negotiating with the Maasai in Olkaria on issues of compensation and relocation. Not all is going well with this process.
Trust issues between the negotiating parties
Ngati Farm is a company owned by the Kikuyu from central Kenya who claim to have bought it from colonialists in 1964. The company and the Maasai have for the last 33 years been embroiled in fierce court battles.
The Maasai have called the land home for the last 400 years. With the recent push by KenGen for geothermal power generation, the land is worth billions of shillings and the stakes are higher for both parties.
Leading the pack behind the evictions is Eddy Njoroge, the former Managing Director of KenGen and currently President Kenyatta’s advisor on energy and petroleum.
He knows the potential of the resources on the ground but also knows the ability of the community to fight back. Sources claim that he is planning to buy the disputed Narasha land from Ngati Farm as long as the Maasai problem is brought to an end. Njoroge is also said to be closely associated with a tender by KenGen that will see another geothermal plant developed at Narasha.
The Governor of Nakuru, Kinuthia Mbugua, is said to be the mastermind of the Enarasha attack. The former Administration Police Commissioner has a long history of hostility with the Maasai in Naivasha. He claims to be a member of Ngati Farm, the company in the centre of the historical dispute for this Maasai ancestral land.
The Maasai were still living in the area and were never consulted. Kinuthia is said to be personally interested in a piece of land currently being occupied by the family of Odupoi ole Parsitau and has approached the family with a Ksh2 million price and asked them to move away. Ole Parsitau declined the offer.
After being elected as Governor, sources say, Kinuthia has vowed to remove the Maasai from Nakuru County. He is said to be planning evictions in Kedong Ranch – another historically disputed area. Governor Mbugua will be a big beneficiary of KenGen’s projects.
Amos Gathecah, the new Nakuru County Commissioner is Governor Mbugua’s foot soldier. He has been used as a go-between in negotiations with Enarasha community. Gathecah recently held a meeting with leaders from Narasha at Nashipae Hotel in Naivasha and offered Ksh31 million so that the community can relocate from the area. The offer was declined and he made a threat that he will use the same money to fight the community and force them to leave the area.
This meeting was triggered by a June 19 petition by the community to the National Land Commission on the dispute with Ngati Farm. The Commission started investigations that will delay the plans for generation of geothermal power in the area.
Helen Kiilu, led dozens of policemen to support Governor Mbugua’s, hired goons to attack Narasha.
Former Councilor Ole Linti, a former area councilor, is said to have changed allegiance in exchange of a share in Ngati farm or the proceeds from the KenGen deals. Ole Linti has a long history of fighting for the community against Ngati Farm and KenGen. He is said to have run out of steam after many years of struggle.
While the government denies knowledge of the evictions, the presence of the police and the manner in which the raids were carried out is indicative of a well-executed plan with backing from state machinery.
The author of this piece, Ben Ole Koissaba, is a PhD Student in International Family and Community Studies at Clemson University, SC and Founder Chair, Maa Civil Society Forum, Kenya