Three years ago and on the 10th anniversary of the Rwanda genocide, I drove to the little village of Nyamata where the first whistle of an impending genocide was raised in 1992.
Then, nobody listened, not even the international community. Today, the Italian priest Tonia Locatelli, who was killed for raising the alarm in 1992, lies beside more than 10,000 people killed in a record five days at the Nyamata church when genocide commenced in 1994 in Rwanda.
Nyamata, some 65 kilometres south of Kigali, is the largest memorial in Rwanda and is a reminder of the effect of diplomatic silence when a nation starts to tear itself apart. Rwanda found an excuse in the name of a downed plane that carried President Juvenile Habyarimana to settle old historical scores among the Hutus and Tutsis. And now, welcome to the Happy Valley. Besides the tussle over vote tallying, the current wave of enmity in the former White Highlands tells us that population pressure, environmental challenges, poverty and land ownership — rows that go back to pre-independence days— have yet to be sorted. The post-colonial economic arrangement is getting a beating. One has to re-read University of California’s Prof Tabitha Kanogo’s book, Squatters and the Roots of Mau Mau, to understand the genesis of some of the controversial settlements in the Rift Valley. Another good read would be Abuor Ojwando’s White Highlands No More, which covers some of the intrigues of settlements. And this is not only about the landless or the organisation and running of land buying companies in post-independent Kenya.
Failed to tackle land question
It is about a political system that failed to tackle the land question when an opportunity arose in 1964, which was lost after the Nakuru "forgive and forget" speech followed next day by the "Hakuna cha bure" rally in Nyahururu.
Instead the Kenyatta government relied heavily on the colonial elite, led by the last Governor Malcolm McDonald (he became the first British High Commissioner to Kenya), Agriculture minister Roy Bruce Mckenzie and Director of Settlements A. Loughlan, in making critical decisions on land, especially the maintenance of the status quo so as not to harm the inherited colonial economy. What we are seeing are victims of a colonial economy going for each other’s throats. Land issue in the Highlands has been emotive. While Colonial Secretary Reginald Maudling promised in Lancaster that they would not hand over the colony "unless we can be sure that we shall be handing over authority to a stable regime, free from oppression, free from violence," there are documents that indicate that they had decided to create an African elite via the 1955 Swynerton Plan.
There were also threats to "start war" in 1963 from Kadu’s William Murgor who came to be known as Bwana Firimbi if other groups were settled in the Kenya highlands. We must look back at why white farmers were encouraged to sell land to the Land Board and why the Settlement Scheme that was primarily set up to relieve landlessness went wrong. Land was an issue that saw Kenyatta and the likes of Bildad Kaggia and Oginga Odinga fall out. In September 1963, Kaggia even wrote to Mackenzie saying, "our freedom fighters expect a complete change of policy… in my opinion, land must be found for these people somehow and somewhere".
If we need to understand the genesis of the problems in the Highlands then we may have to check in the political history of this country. The truth must be told, however bitter, and a solution found. But that cannot be done through killings, mayhem and constant digging. If a truth and reconciliation commission is not formulated, we can all wait for our own version of Nyamata. After all, the land pressure in the Highlands is evoking tribal anger and more.