African Jubilee Mau Mau Resurgence and the Fight For Fertility in Kenya, 1986-2002

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African Jubilee
Mau Mau Resurgence and the Fight For Fertility in Kenya, 1986-2002

Terisa E. Turner and Leigh Brownhill


Part One: Promised Land
We were cheated by the white man with a bible that we should not have things here on earth but we should wait for those things that were promised in heaven. So, the Africans were being tormented and harassed because they were to wait until the day came for us to go up and inherit the things that were prophesied, while the white man could stay here and enjoy the things of the world. Jomo [Kenyatta, c. 1946] went ahead and wanted to broaden the Africans' minds. He said that since we were told to wait for those things that were up there in heaven, and the white man was the one who went up into the sky in airplanes, why doesn't he go up there and inherit everything that is up there and leave the others for the Africans? (First Woman, Elizabeth wa Gatengwa,15 January 1997).1
We [in Muungano wa Wanavijiji, Organization of Villagers] have followed what the Mau Mau were fighting for, because they were fighting for land, and we are also fighting for land. Because the reason we have so many slum dwellers in Nairobi, is lack of land. And if you ask the slum dwellers, you will find that their parents were Mau Mau fighters. Their people are the ones who were in the forest and yet they didn’t get land or anything. And they are the ones who are now spread all over. So we want everyone to be given land and to be given assurance of owning this land (First Woman, Sabina Wanjiku, 25 July 1998).
There is a resurgence of struggle over land in Kenya. Fighters ‘who are now spread all over,’ have taken up the unfinished business of the Mau Mau which began 50 years ago in 1952. Land occupations in the new millennium are part of a new cycle of struggle by the dispossessed in response to the new enclosures of the commons by corporate ‘globalization from above.’

Kenya in 2002 is characterized by a politics of land which is as intense and conflict ridden now as it was fifty years ago when the Kenya Land and Freedom Army, or Mau Mau, engaged British colonialists and African loyalist ‘Homeguards’ in battles over control of land. Land, in Kenya, is power. And though there has been an almost unceasing struggle over land throughout the twentieth century, this struggle has seen quiet times and periods of extreme upheaval. The armed struggle for independence in the 1950s is clearly one period of upheaval. We identify a new period of upheaval beginning around 1986 and intensifying into the year 2002. Why, after forty years of Kenyan independence, has there arisen a new Mau Mau and a new round of conflagration over land?

Sisule wrote of the 2001 Kenyan land conflicts that,
There is a perennial joke that an average Kenyan abhors free, open space and would not hesitate to occupy such land even if it belongs to somebody else. Of course this is only true in the case of the land grabbing types, who sometimes disguise themselves as genuine private developers. Land is a vital resource for abode and production activities and its ownership is an emotive issue (Sisule, 8 October 2001).
It is necessary to distinguish between those commonly known in Kenya as ‘land grabbers,’ who are wealthy people aspiring to make commercial gain from the privatization of public land, and those we call ‘land occupiers,’ who are dispossessed people who assert land entitlements to public land and idle privately owned land.
While dramatizing the fact that struggle over land is a key issue in the 21st century, Sisule does not say why. Why now? The answer to this question is intimately tied up with the introduction of World Bank structural adjustment programs, beginning in 1980. Before outlining the types of land occupations occurring in Kenya today, and defining some of our key concepts, we examine, briefly, three aspects of structural adjustment programmes which bear upon the increase in conflicts over land. These are, first, the fast-tracking of election-focused ‘political pluralism,’ which has manifest itself in Kenya in a fully commodified form in which money and land titles2 are exchanged for votes; second, the privatization of state assets, which puts in place a justification for the corrupt allocation of urban and rural spaces; and third, the de-funding of health and education, which increases the need among the poor for access to land on which to subsist and earn an independent livelihood.
Since the government was forced to concede to multipartyism in 1991, some 400,000 Kenyans have been systematically attacked and displaced from their homes by state‑sponsored violence targeting ethnic groups perceived to support the political opposition. The role of known high‑ranking government officials, who remain unpunished, in instigating, inflaming, and financing this violence has been widely documented, not only by national and international human rights NGOs, but also by the government's own parliamentary select committee (which consisted of only ruling party members) (Human Rights Watch 2001).
Multiparty politics emerged in Kenya in the early 1990s as a result of two conflicting but interrelated phenomena. First, in the mid 1980s, transport workers attempted to form a union. They held several strikes which paralyzed regional trade for short periods. Autonomous action by transport workers meant that the state could not control the economy. The government banned unionization in the transportation sector. At the same time, the small scale farmers of coffee tore out their trees and planted food crops for local consumption. They did so because the prices on the world market had fallen and at the same time, state corruption in the allocation of coffee incomes enriched state managers and impoverished rural producers. With the drop in foreign exchange earnings from coffee sales, the state fell into a balance of payments crisis by the end of the 1980s. The World Bank was concerned about the fiscal crisis and conflated the growing resistance through economic disruption by transport workers and small farmers with the increasingly vociferous demands for multiparty democracy. The World Bank offered Moi an ultimatum in December 1991: repeal the section of the Constitution which made Kenya a single party state or lose financial assistance from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, as well as from the ‘Paris Club’ of donors which took its cues from the Bretton Woods institutions. Within days, Moi capitulated. He was not so willing, however, to allow voters to decide the political future of the country on their own. In 2001,
Hundreds of thousands of internally displaced persons remained unable to return after being driven from their homes in state‑sponsored attacks since 1991 directed against members of ethnic groups perceived to support the political opposition. The authorities continued during the year to fail to provide adequate security to those who sought to return to their homes under assurances of safety, nor were land titles restored to those who were wrongfully deprived. Nor had the government held those responsible for the violence accountable. In 1999, a presidential Commission on the Ethnic Clashes wound up after eleven months of hearing evidence, including from Human Rights Watch, about the violence between 1991 and 1998. As of October 2000, the commission's findings had still not been released, though the completed report had been submitted to the president over a year before (Human Rights Watch, World Report 2001).
Behind the increasing competition for land in the public sphere was structural adjustment’s insistence on privatization, or as the 2001 winner of the Nobel Prize for Economics and ex-World Bank chief economist, Joseph Stiglitz, calls it, “briberization-privatization.”3 In Kenya in 1994, about 2.5 million hectares, or 20% to 25% of the most arable land, was owned by large scale farmers (Foeken and Tellegen 1994:3). On these large farms, hundreds of thousands of acres lay idle. Thousands of Kenyans live as agricultural labourers on these estates, or nearby in squatter communities on public land. Those Kenyans who own small farms or occupy communally owned land are situated, economically and socially, between the large land owners and the landless, who squat on rural land or make their livelihoods in urban slums. Squatters on public land in urban areas live in substandard accommodation, which they either build from scavenged cardboard and flattened tin cans or rent from landlords who have no legal title to the land.
In 2001, slumdwellers defied landlords by asserting collective rights to housing plots. Nairobi’s Kibera slum houses more than 700,000 people (Otieno 4 December 2001). In an October 2001 public address, Kenya’s President Moi acknowledged the problem of landlords charging exorbitant rents for slum houses: “most of the semi‑permanent residential houses stand on State land and the landlords pay nothing to the Government, yet they are fleecing the tenants. These people own the land illegally and in fact they should be prosecuted. As of now we will not do that, but they have to ensure that they charge reasonable rents.” (Openda 1 November 2001). Within a month, urban villagers in Kibera acted on Moi’s delegitimization of fake slumlords who “should be prosecuted.” The slum dwellers “organised themselves into a tenants’ association, and vowed to halt rent payments until the Provincial Commissioner issued new guidelines” (Gaitho 20 November 2001). Landlords refused to lower rents and called in police to disperse the tenants, who gathered daily for rallies and discussions. Ten days later, on 30 November, the Daily Nation reported that
Tenants of the sprawling Kibera slum in Nairobi began to flee their homes yesterday, amid claims of rampant looting and rape by police. ... A middle aged woman said she was forced to strip and was molested by policemen, but was not raped. Other tenants said they saw women being raped in some bars but the victims were not willing to speak of their ordeal (Thuku 30 November 2001).
Government Ministers proposed rent cuts to avert the spread of the rent strikes. Landlords offered a 20 per cent reduction. Tenants insisted on a 50 per cent cut (Otieno 4 December 2001). Three quarters of a million slum dwellers, through their tenants’ organization, decided autonomously the value of their accommodation. Auto-valuation of rents was combined with self-taxing. Many Kibera slum dwellers each paid ten shillings a month to Mungiki (Congress) and formed community defense posses against police attack.
Poor living conditions in the slums and in rural areas are accompanied by poor health and education. The Archbishop of the Anglican Church of Kenya, Dr. David Gitari, holds the government responsible for the poverty and ill health resulting from the de-funding of schools and medical centres. Dr. Gitari decried the fact that child mortality rates had “increased from 62 per 1000 live births in 1988‑1993 to 74 children per 1000 live births in 1998.” The mortality rate of children under five years of age had also shot up. “During the first two decades after independence [1963-1983], there was an improvement in the health status of the population with a marked decline in mortality and morbidity rates and increase in life expectancy, an achievement the Government has been unable to improve or sustain” (Oywa 8 October 2001). Despite grinding poverty and repression, millions of peasants produce food and hundreds of thousands of land-poor and landless people process and trade it in rural and urban areas of the country. The persistence of this subsistence political economy has ensured that most of the population is supplied with at least the bare necessities, which in turn allows them to struggle to increase their control over land and their own lives.
The struggle for land in this new period of upheaval in Kenya pits those who promote capitalist enterprise against those who reassert a subsistence political economy in concert with others worldwide engaged in popular ‘globalization from below.’ In Part One, we draw distinctions between two types of land redistribution programs and introduce seven types of land occupations which are differentiated from one another according to the relations between the land occupiers and the land owners. We then define the concepts we use to analyze the land occupation movement: commodification, subsistence, the male deal, gendered class alliances and the fight for fertility.
In Part Two, we document ten cases of land occupation by land poor peasants and squatters. We assess the extent to which subsistence is furthered in the course of the occupations by considering the gendered class politics of two organizations involved in the occupations: Mungiki (Congress, literally, in Gikuyu, “we are the public”)4 and Muungano wa Wanavijiji (Organization of Villagers)5. These organizations embody the resurgence of Mau Mau. In the face of land privatization programmes sponsored by the World Bank, which tend to increase instead of alleviate landlessness, the urban-based Muungano wa Wanavijiji (Organization of Villagers) and the massive Mungiki (Congress) have arisen to address, among many other realities, the immediate needs of the impoverished for land.

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