Tragically, hardly any major news outlet has tried to report such matters
in context. Many of them have simply advanced the establishment lie that
this is a conflict between ranchers and “bandits”, a demeaning reference to
pastoralists who have moved around with their livestock in the area for
A comparison is easily made between what is happening in Laikipia with
events in Zimbabwe and even South Africa. The logical deduction that
consumers of news are encouraged to make, of course, is that the invasions
are bad for Kenya and that the pastoralists must be stopped by all means.
But that can hardly be a solution to the emerging conflict. Indeed, it is
doubtful that any of the governments in the region, save perhaps Rwanda, is
capable of dealing with issues of injustice that are rooted in colonial
The reason for this state of affairs is not difficult to fathom if one were
to carefully study the history of our countries in the period immediately
before and after independence. Essentially, the new black elite took over
the mantle of leadership and selfishly entrenched the oppressive power
structures of the outgoing colonial masters.
Rather than dismantling these systems and structures – the very reason for
African resistance to colonial rule – the new masters prided themselves in
displaying their newfound toys of power. They sought to assert their
authority and bring down any resistance to themselves using the same tools
that the colonial powers had used. They sought to distance themselves from
their fellow Africans and did their best to align their thinking, values
and mannerisms with their former white masters.
In order to bring about this hatred of themselves and anything African by
locals, Europeans instilled a great sense of inferiority into colonised
peoples. Once their minds were thoroughly brainwashed, the colonised
peoples saw anything African as inferior to what the whites had to offer.
Those who excelled in aping the white man were rewarded with more toys,
including with appointments as foremen, home guards and chiefs to oppress
their kith and kin.
From there, it was easy for the white man to quit the scene and still
control events from far away. Leaders like Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya’s first
president, never saw anything wrong in grabbing huge tracts of land for
themselves and their friends as other citizens wallowed in extreme poverty.
When confronted with the pain of the betrayed masses, they resorted to
detentions, assassinations, and divide-and-rule tactics that play one
ethnic group against another.
But the problems of dispossession and disempowerment that came along with
colonialism cannot just be wished away. The descendants of colonialists who
control vast ranches in Laikipia today know very well that their ancestors
never bought that land from the Africans who lived on it. They simply
grabbed the land by virtue of being the colonial masters; more than 50
years after independence, how can the descendants of those dispossessed be
expected to sit back and accept that they have absolutely no right to that
Pastoralist communities – who since time immemorial had grazed their
animals on what are now privately-owned ranches that were taken away
without compensation – are now being labelled bandits when they seek water
and pasture from such land. That can only be the case if we decide as a
region to shamelessly internalise the values of our oppressors.
By any means, there should be a peaceful resolution of the current
conflict. The pastoralists have a right to life, and to protect themselves
from destitution through the death of their animals from prolonged drought.
If anyone is to be labelled a bandit, it should be those who travelled
thousands of kilometres to take away other people’s land by force of arms,
and who are now crying foul.
Beyond the immediate conflict, issues of historical injustices must be
addressed once and for all. If that is not done, we can all expect a
greater fire next time – not just in Kenya but throughout the region.