Op-ed:Of the Limuru Hunt, land and the Luo bogeyman

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Op-ed:Of the Limuru Hunt, land and the Luo bogeyman

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President Uhuru Kenyatta at the funeral of former Cabinet Minister William ole Ntimama in Motonyi, Narok on September 14, 2016. PHOTO | SULEIMAN MBATIAH | | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Of the Limuru Hunt, land and the Luo bogeyman


The great terror of my childhood days was an encounter with the Limuru Hunt.

What was this thing? It was walking into a bunch of white folks on horseback, trussed up in red and black coats and funny hats, and a pack of excited hounds coming down the road. A sight to behold, but to a 10-year-old boy with nowhere to run, five minutes of sheer terror.

The Hunt disappeared about the time old Jomo passed on, as the big shambas were acquired by Africans, depriving the white folks the open fox and hare hunting grounds.

The shambas stretched from Limuru all the way to Thika and beyond. Even today, you can still ramble your way from Limuru to Gatundu without setting foot on a peasant holding. This is Kiambu, one of the most densely populated rural counties in Kenya.

In the run-up to independence, the big land question was whether to return the land expropriated for white settlers to its original owners. We know that Jomo Kenyatta and ascendant Kikuyu elite fought restitution, and adopted “willing buyer, willing seller” policy as it was then known. Had the policy gone the other way, it’s unlikely that I would have been tormented by mzunguhoi polloi indulging in aristocratic pretences more than a decade after independence.


The willing buyer, willing seller policy split Kanu down the middle. Its most ardent opponent was Bildad Kagia. In an outburst reminiscent of the son’s meat-eating faux pas, Jomo Kenyatta challenged Kaggia to state what he had done for himself: “Kaggia, we were together with Paul Ngei in jail; if you go to Ngei’s farm, he has planted a lot of coffee and other crops. What have you done for yourself? If you go to (Fred) Kubai’s, he has a big house and a nice shamba. Kaggia, what have you done for yourself? We were together with Kung’u Karumba in jail, now he is running his own buses. What have you done for yourself?”

Jomo’s fury was sparked by Kaggia constantly pointing out that the Kikuyu Central Association had sent Kenyatta to England to agitate for land restitution:

“The humble petition of the Kikuyu Central Association, Kenya Colony. Sheweth, we the undersigned, representing thousands of members of the Kikuyu tribes, beg to lay before you through our representative Johnston Kenyatta, Hon Secretary of the Kikuyu Central Association, whom we have deputed to visit England, the following grievances to which we earnestly hope you will give us your kind and sympathetic consideration.”

Jomo Kenyatta himself was on record advocating restitution in his 1944 pamphlet, ‘Kenya, the Land of Conflict’ and in his magnum opus Facing Mount Kenya.


As late as 1963, Prime Minister Kenyatta was advocating restitution, giving to the Lancaster House constitutional conference a “categorical assurance” that all “tribal land” would be “entrenched in the tribal authority and it would not be possible for anyone to “take away land belonging to another tribe”.

A restitution policy of any kind would not only have put paid to the ascendant Kikuyu elite’s designs on the very desirable Kiambu shambas; it would also have triggered a reverse migration from the Rift Valley back to the “reserves”, where Kikuyu notables had appropriated the inheritances of their squatter relatives.

It is these exigencies that motivated Kanu to court Kadu, leading to the latter’s folding itself in 1964, and with that was born the Kikuyu-Kalenjin power axis. But the latter fact did not become evident until Daniel arap Moi’s surprise appointment as Kenyatta’s vice-president in September 1966, following the surprise resignation of the cosmopolitan Joseph Murumbi after only five months on the job.

Moi was not the obvious choice. In fact, he had not featured at all in the frenzied speculation that went on for the three months that the VP’s position was vacant. Ronald Ngala was an obvious choice. As party leader, he was most instrumental in Kadu folding itself into Kanu.In the Kanu ranks, Tom Mboya towered, and it seemed that it would have made political sense to replace Jaramogi Oginga Odinga with a fellow Luo. Why Moi?


Moi moved to the vice-presidency with his Home Affairs portfolio — a docket that included signing detention orders. In 1975, Jean Marie Seroney received his detention orders for not asking the Deputy Speaker to ask Martin Shikuku so substantiate his statement that Kanu was dead. Instead, Seroney quipped that the obvious did not need to be substantiated.

Seroney had been a marked man since he publicised the Nandi Hills Declaration in 1969 — a document protesting the sale of Nandi settler farms to “outsiders”, for which he and the document’s author were convicted of sedition. It is noteworthy that it was Kihika Kimani, the foremost organiser of Kikuyu land buying companies, who had demanded the substantiation.

When Seroney’s protege and equally fiery Nandi legislator Chelagat Mutai organised to buy a settler farm in Uasin Gishu, she found roadblocks everywhere and ended up in jail on an incitement charge. Moi was certainly earning his keep.

A seldom remarked dimension of the political economy of land is the absence of the Luo political elite from the fray.

It is not for want of opportunity. Odinga certainly was in a position to acquire large tracts those early days, as was Jomo’s jail-mate, Achieng Oneko, and “Mau Mau lawyer” CMG Argwings-Kodhek. Tom Mboya, as powerful an establishment figure as you could get, was evidently not interested either.

Isaac Omolo Okero, William Odongo Omamo and Robert Ouko had sterling political careers straddling both Jomo Kenyatta and Moi administrations. None of them distinguished themselves by land grabbing or primitive accumulation of any kind, with Ouko paying the ultimate price.


When President Uhuru Kenyatta vented his spleen at William ole Ntimama’s funeral recently, he was mouthing 50 years of exasperation with a Luo political elite that has refused to join the feast.

A prominent Jubilee-leaning columnist opined, to my surprise, that the Jubilee Party handshake ought to have been more inclusive. Even more telling, in my view, is the image of President Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto that the Jubilee Party plastered on billboards all over town. Like the Kanu-Kadu merger half a century ago, the Jubilee Party is little more than a Kikuyu-Kalenjin power-for-land pact.

But as this column postulated some time ago, both the land conflict political fault line as well as the protagonists have shifted, and herein lies the Jubilee Party’s problem.

Narok is the new fault line, the Maasai and Kipsigis the protagonists. The Kipsigis are now as land-poor as the Kikuyu were in the 1960s and 1970s, with about as much arable land per person as Murang’a or Kiambu, while Narok next door is the country’s most land-rich county with 2.3 acres of high-potential land per person, almost six times the national average of 0.4 acres per person.

Unlike Raila Odinga, the bishop who postulated that unity ought to come before development may not know why his comments earned a presidential invective. He walked into a hornet’s nest.

Since independence, the Kanu-Kadu establishment has sought to bury the land justice question under an avalanche of paternalistic development rhetoric. After declaring in Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965 that the Kanu government would continue with the colonial policy of exclusionary development — favouring high-potential areas and disciplined people — Jomo Kenyatta, in his preface to the Sessional Paper, declared the development debate closed.

Inadvertently or otherwise, the pastor, too, was speaking Mr Odinga’s language. National unity necessarily means confronting and addressing the root causes of disunity, which leads you to the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission and land. One would have thought that President Kenyatta would know that development paternalism is long past its sell-by date.

Source: By DAVID NDII 


Op-ed:Of the Limuru Hunt, land and the Luo bogeyman Reviewed by on September 24, 2016 .

Share thisFacebookTwitterPinterestEmailWhatsAppPresident Uhuru Kenyatta at the funeral of former Cabinet Minister William ole Ntimama in Motonyi, Narok on September 14, 2016. PHOTO | SULEIMAN MBATIAH | | NATION MEDIA GROUP Of the Limuru Hunt, land and the Luo bogeyman By DAVID NDII The great terror of my childhood days was an encounter with the Limuru


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