Opinion

LAND: A sensitive agenda that needs a close look

East African Whispers

Saturday March 17, 2018

By Isaac Mwangi

East African News Agency, Arusha

Quiet but determined. Long in coming, but with an assured outcome. Initially with only a trickle of outspoken advocates, the message appeals to millions across the continent.

The voices coming from South Africa about land expropriation are radical and offer much-needed leadership and hope for the whole of Africa.

This is all upright battle of the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) led by Julius Malema, who has taken up a subject that has eluded Africans and subjected local populations to bondage ever since European colonialists landed in Africa.

In fact, many local populations have long given up on obtaining justice in land matters. Yet, the undercurrents of this problem keep cropping up every so often.

As Malema has so eloquently put it, white invaders treated local populations as animals – or worse. They declared as vacant and available for occupation lands that had long been inhabited by native peoples.

Having invented firearms, they subdued anyone, who resisted their imperialist intentions, killing with abandon.

They terrorised whoever stood in their way and sent punitive expeditions against chiefs and kings who were courageous enough to fight them.

And although they often lost some of these battles – something that western historians have been careful to sweep under the carpet – the colonial powers eventually overran the whole of Africa with their superior weapons as well as divide-and-rule tactics.

In the process, they were not ashamed to commit genocide and other serious crimes against the Congolese, the Herero and many other groups on the continent.

South Africa’s political firebrand Julius Malema

When independence finally came to African countries, the former colonial masters – now joined in their evil schemes by the US – were crafty enough to create circumstances that would favour them, including assassinations and military intervention to impose puppet rulers in Africa.

This has prevented Africans from realising the fruits of independence or gaining from the departure of white colonialists in any meaningful way.

The most potent manner in which this lopsided situation continues can be seen in land ownership.

At independence, the injustices perpetrated by colonialists in land matters were not addressed by the newly-independent states.

Instead, the elites in these countries were happy to be absorbed into a superior class and abandoned the cause for which so much blood had been shed.

The new rulers sought to become large landowners themselves, leaving the masses to their fate.

This situation may be partly attributed to the psychological trauma and scars left by slavery and colonialism, whereby whites were viewed as superior to blacks.

Even today, this myth lives on in many towns and villages, where any white person is treated with reverence and can easily fool a gullible population.

It was also the result of ideological bankruptcy and the lack of a clear vision.

To this day, the leaders of independent African countries are all too prepared to sacrifice their national interests so as to satisfy the interests of foreign governments, multinational and multilateral institutions.

A Kenya Wildlife Service ranger drives out cattle from a ranch in Laikipia in March last year. Thirty seven per cent of Laikipia is under large-scale ranches or conservancies. Group ranches owned by pastoralist communities cover another 32 per cent, while around 20 per cent of Laikipia is owned by smallholder farmers, typically from the Kikuyu or Turkana communities. PHOTOS | AGENCIES

This is why the clamour for land ownership by local populations has hardly been realised anywhere in Africa.

Soon after independence in Kenya, for instance, the founding president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta assured whites of the safety of their property and told citizens that there was nothing for free – forgetting that the land had been acquired from local populations through violent colonial occupation.

When there was a dispute recently between the local Maa population and ranchers in the country’s Laikipia County, the government sent soldiers to humiliate the locals and protect white ranchers.

The argument, of course, is always that we must all respect the sanctity of the title deed.

It is a nonsensical argument when one considers the fact that the vast landholdings held by white farmers were never acquired fairly from the local population.

With the pressure of a growing and hungry population, it is completely irresponsible for any government to try to protect those who acquired land fraudulently and violently a century or so ago at the expense of the real owners of that land.

Of what use, then, was independence? And how legitimate is any government that protects the interests of the descendants of colonialists – who are indeed criminals as Malema calls them – at the expense of its majority indigenous peoples?

The land issue cannot be wished away. The fresh breath coming from down south will soon blow over the whole of East Africa and the rest of the continent.

If our own leaders were not courageous enough in the past or were too dim-witted to move against western interests, perhaps they can now borrow a leaf from South Africa.

Land is a key factor of production. Now is the time for justice, which begins by giving the land back to its rightful owners.

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