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The Nandi/Luo conflict: in the borderlands of Songhor and Miwani

General background

“Land is a very emotive issue” (Kibet, 2013), one of the “two mighty rivers of Kenya’s political landscape” (Morton, 1990: 12), and “is our most pressing national problem” (Ochieng, 2013). General discussion is often vague and ill informed. There are widespread complaints about historical injustice, but no solution is offered.

Thus the diagnosis may be accurate, but the prognosis is defeatist, indeed fatalist. Those who mention the topic shake their heads, as if nothing can or will be done. 
Regional background

As usual historical injustices are the root of a tree that even today bears bitter fruit. The British colonialists divided communities and cleared away the Nandi when they built the Kisumu railway line.

Later, at least 200 families were expelled from the Nandi hills by the British and relocated in Tanzania. They were only permitted to take 10 cows per family and so had to start afresh in Tanzania with very little. Of course they yearned to return to their ancestral lands.

But it was not until 40 years later that their descendants returned to discover to their dismay that others occupied their land,and that some of those even had registered titles. Also, some wazungu, both Greek and Asian, had built factories but later sold off parcels of the land.

Imagine their bitterness, their hopes dashed! They found themselves strangers and squatters in what they thought was their home.

So what started with a railway has ended with continuous conflict.

But this is not a one-sided story. Maasai and Sirikwa once occupied land that is now claimed by Nandi.

The current occupants have their own story to tell. Mostly Luo, many have lived in the contested region for scores of years and paid good money for their titles, yet they are said to be unwelcome visitors and told to leave.But where do they go? Why should they leave their homes? Who will compensate them for the money and labour they have sunk into the land?

The pain and heartbreak is very real on both sides. Some say the British government must help resolve the problem and are considering legal proceedings.Some say the government should intervene, while others argue that the local political Big Men don’t want to see these issues settled.

Yet others comment that some community leaders resist change and say one thing while doing another. For example, some ladies in the Luo community comment that land titles have not been registered in their names, that title registration is withheld from female owners.

So what we have now is a difficult history with fragmented communities. The problems are not merely between the Nandi and Luo but also within both communities and even inside the same villages.

As usual, people suffer while the powerful play. Jane Adoda spoke of the sadness and difficulties of her daily life. “ I do not even have ‘maziwa’ for my children, we don’t eat well and our children are suffering.” She knows that other Kenyan citizens enjoy a reasonable life while she struggles on a daily basis for her basic needs.

She highlights a major source and symptom of conflict, namely cattle rustling. Of course cattle rustling is not merely a sign of disapproval by one community ofanother: it is also big business. Not everything is rooted in ethnicity: there is also banditry. There are even rumours that cattle stolen from one section of the Luo community by Nandi thieves are sold back to other Luos.

Whether true or not this story highlights the complexity of the situation and while people talk nothing changes for suffering women and children, the poor and the powerless.

Promises have been made but few have been kept. Fatalism and despair threaten to overwhelm the communities.

Where does the boundary lie?  The one that existed before the British arrived? The one in the maps shown in 1920s? Or is it where it was in the 1950s, or as at Uhuru?

The local Nandi comment that they are poor people, and by welcoming other people from other tribes have been disadvantaged. They are sad and upset when they say, “our County is porous”. They also recognize they are marginalized, ignored and overlooked by the majority of their own people.

Ignorance is a problem. Joshua Magut commented that most people in this area “are not informed on the issues about land and boundaries”.

The cruel reality is that many people from local communities are impoverished, have no employment prospects and are desperate for development. The roads are terrible, markets inaccessible and many basics unavailable. All communities are disadvantaged but many think that others are better off than they.

Nevertheless, there is some goodwill particularly after recent peace forums organised by CCDD.

Dorcas commented “forums should be carried out throughout the region so that every village is covered and community members heard”.

Paul Kiplimo added, “ I think that elders from this region should air out their views, they may have ideas that bring harmony between us”.

Mary noted that “some of this people don’t know how to handle problems and instead take action into their own hands, that’s why they fight and the administration fails to act”.

CCDD has hosted several peace forums and will bring together community leaders to listen to each other and facilitatemediation in this journey. Do join us.

The author, David Cooke, LLB (Exon), Dip ANCC, Dip UoC, MA (Hull), is an English lawyer, Counsellor, mediator, trainer and peace worker.  His local name isKipKaliaarapKalia, and at the Coast, Daoudi Ericsson.