Land and Ecological Injustice from Kudu to Dagoretti North

Published: by Lena Anyuolo

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 the offices of the senior officials of the mine. Across the road from the Centre is a row of one storey houses. Some had padlocks on the door 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 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 an a man, 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 it so that he can make a small kitchen garden. Kinyatu told us that he had come to KMQ from Matuu looking for work. He anticipated that there would soon be a large population of workers because there was an Indian that 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 from marble mining in other counties across Kenya. Big lorries often come at night and use some of the land as a dumping ground. 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 their during the periods when they were mining. The Indians now administered the mines but did not live on 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 chosen by the people. It’s university educated men who are chosen as the 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 pastures. Other young men in the community start 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. Large lorries pass mile 46 road heading to Nairobi day and night transporting sand. 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 deep gulleys. 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. They will blame disenfranchised Maa community for ‘destroying’ wildlife, yet it is capitalist activities by wealthy business people that is the cause of 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 susbsiteny economy and practices into the market economy.

The area around mile 46 is littered with Action Aid NGO which has supported the building of schools and farms for beekeeping, yet little transformation has occurred in the community. The population has decreased to migrant labour into Nairobi caused by degraded ecology robbing pastrolist community of their economic activity. The NGO schools have not improved the knowledge of the Maasai. The community is ignorant of their economic and social justice rights. Men can often sell away their land over a debt at the bar. Women are excluded from all decision making involving land.

The CoK has three categories of land, public land, community land and private land. Most occurrences of land injustices happen within communities land and public land. In Dagoretti North (DN) for example, during a forum hosted by Mneti Huru and Ukombozi Library last year, we learnt that all public land in Dagoretti North had been grabbed by chiefs and turned into parking areas, petrol stations or dumping sites or given to churches. The chiefs are the custodians of public land for the office of the president. This power to distribute land was taken away from the chiefs by the Kibaki Govt.

The community in DN 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 relsessed fro, detention camps in Manyani and Kilifi. They 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 ‘willinging 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 which is opposite Dagoretti Empowerment Centre - another site which the community fought for and won, after it had been grabbed and sold to private developer and had hired armed police from the Riruta Police Station to guard it.

From Kudu to Riruta, lack of education on land rights puts the community at risk of exploitation and injustice. However organization and political education makes the community a formidable force for resistance.