Monday, June 16, 2014

Oloo NOT Surprised by Mpeketoni Tragedy

[First of all, mkono wa tanzia kwa jamii, jamaa na marafiki wa waathiriwa wa maafa Mpeketoni jana usiku.The terrible tragedy that unfolded in Mpeketoni, Lamu County on June 15, 2014 shocked millions of Kenyans. But one of the few who was NOT surprised is the present writer, Onyango Oloo.  I am a senior writer with Operation Firimbi Bulletin, a publication of the Mazingira Institute which focuses on issues of land grabbing and campaigns against land grabbing and corruption in Kenya. About four months ago, I traveled all the way to Lamu to conduct research for issue number 37 of the Firimbi Bulletin. I reproduce below an article I penned in March.  I have also included a link to the entire issue saved in PDF format. If you go through article, you will see clearly why, even though I am traumatized and sad at the wanton destruction of human life, I repeat, Onyango Oloo is NOT SURPRISED. In passing I must say it is laughable to see Interior Security cabinet secretary Joseph Ole Lenku showing up after 19 hours and link the Mpeketoni attack to the CORD rallies in general and Raila Odinga in particular. Does the Jubilee regime gets its security briefings from  frothing nutbars on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere on social media? ]

The Ndovu (Elephant) in the Room

By Onyango Oloo, Senior Writer, Operation Firimbi Bulletin

In late February 2014, a member of the Operation Firimbi Bulletin team had the opportunity of travelling all the way to Lamu on a fact  finding mission to  see and hear first hand, the experiences, struggles of the challenges of the people of Lamu as they grappled with myriad challenges about historical injustices around land and their impact on matters of cultural identity, survival of   and issues of equitable and sustainable national development, protection  of the environment and the preservation of world heritage sites. 

Through this breathtaking odyssey the themes of inter-community harmony, conflict transformation, agrarian reform and new paradigms kept cropping and popping up.

Our main host was the multi-member Save Lamu Coalition ensconced right in the middle of Lamu, Kenya’s oldest urban area and a melting port of a range of religions, races, ethnic groups and shared destinies.

Before we got to the neighbourhoods of Witu, Mpeketoni, Hongwe, Morowe and Lamu Island proper, however, we made a brief one day stop over in Malindi.

And it was to meet the venerable scholar Professor Abdulla Bujra, the long serving founder and Director of Development Policy Management Forum, a  development  NGO which since its founding in 1995 has carved a niche for itself for its cutting edge interventions in the spheres of political economy, sustainable development, governance, environmental protection and social justice. Prof. Abdalla Bujra was born in Malindi in 1938, but spent most of his formative years in Lamu. He went to Lamu primary school, Mombasa Secondary school then joined University of London where he did a BA in African Studies and later obtained his Doctoral degree (PhD) in Sociology at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. As an academic and scholar, Prof. Bujra has taught in various universities around the world. His teaching expertise includes supervising senior researchers and graduate students (PhD and MA) in academic institutions. He has also participated in and managed several major high level Pan-African panels and committees linked to the AU as well as Pan-African independent research organisations. 

We had actually planned to have an appointment with Prof. Bujra in Lamu, but when we contacted him over the phone he informed us that he had come to Malindi on other engagements. Since he had come highly recommended as a source on the intricacies of the land and resourced based issues in Lamu we offered that we could travel directly to Malindi from Mombasa and from there continue  towards our rendezvous with the Coalition at the archipelago up north.

The good university don-now retired- happily obliged.

Our first meeting was at the Jebreen Café, located ironically on Lamu Road in Malindi. He later took us over to the offices of MEDA, a well known civil society organization in the city which provided Vasco da Gama with his Kenyan pilot five centuries ago.

In our tête–à–tête with Prof. Bujra we were able to glean a lot of fascinating tidbits about Lamu-its inhabitants, heritage and storied legacy.

The professor did not disappoint when we zeroed in our main research interest: the context of the land question in Lamu County.

“What you have in Lamu is a question of internal colonialism. Lamu people, even though they are Kenyans have long been treated as second class citizens in their own country. All the powerful government people- the PCs, the DCs, the DOs all the powerful public officers, especially those handling land matters have never been local, they all come from Nairobi. Land in Lamu was declared government land, unlike other areas of Kenya. Most Lamu peasant and small farmers do not have title deeds. And then the ultimate monstrosity: in the 1970s, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta opted to tackle the burning land question in Central Province by importing thousands of Agikuyu into Lamu, creating the Lake Kenyatta Settlement scheme in what is today Lamu West This was done in total disregard to the interests of the Bajuni, Swahili, Orma, Awer and other indigenous Lamu people, many of whom had been evicted from their ancestral land earlier. Jomo Kenyatta and his acolytes like the former Coast PC were in power when local, politically connected elites from Nairobi grabbed a lot of land in Lamu County. All these issues planted the seeds of simmering conflict that will explode in the region if local grievances are not dealt with.”

Professor Bujra gave me the name of Abubakar El-Amudy and other members of the Save Lamu Coalition and advised me to make a point of meeting him and other members of the coalition. He also gave me valuable references to important documents and recommended I meet a range of contacts-not only in Lamu but also in Nairobi, especially the Katiba Institute. He insisted that I must see for myself Kililani, one of the proposed sites of the new port, and a scene of some recent protests.

Since this is NOT a glossy travelogue, to be read leisurely over a multi-time zone transatlantic flight, I will suppress my almost uncontrollable urge to construct a mental instagram , using adjectives, verbs and adverbs; I will therefore skimp on  the minutiae and skip over the sun kissed, breezy, meandering odyssey to history drenched Lamu by  sturdy country bus; of how we  breath takingly, zippily traversed the oceanic liquid expanse via steam boat-no, there was no time for  bumpy, rickety, donkey rides on the ageless, narrow lanes of the ancient, possibly enchanted town!

Upon arrival, Abubakar El-Amudy met me at the wharf and guided me to the squeaky clean guest house that was to be domicile during my brief sojourn in Lamu.

 A brief siesta on the humungous hand crafted bed segued into my face to face with invited members of the Save Lamu Coalition over at the second floor offices at the foot of downtown Lamu.

On hand for the meet, greet and round table session were Mohamed Mbwana of the Shungwaya Welfare Association; Mohamed Athman of the Lamu Marine Forum; Abubaker El Amudy himself of the Lamu Environmental Coalition; and Chair of the coalition; Wahid Ahmed of the Lamu Youth Alliance; Hussein Soud, the wise old man of Amu Council of Elders and author of a good book on Swahili culture and Mohamed Athman Khatib, the Coordinator of Save Lamu Coalition.

The gathering with the usual warm Swahili hospitality that I have come accustomed to having  grown up in Mombasa from my early teens welcomed me with tea and bitings and then fed me with a treasure of information about Lamu; especially about LAPSSET and details of how the people of Lamu were actually the first IDPs in post-colonial Kenya when Mzee Kenyatta’s regime used a ruse about a Shifta presence to force many local residents of Lamu to flee their burning, looted and pillaged homes for refuge in Malindi, Mombasa and even as far as Tanzania. They amplified what Prof. Bujra had recounted a day earlier about central government mandarins from Nairobi lording it over the residents of Lamu; of the corruption and land grabbing; of a sense of cultural and ethnic siege…

There was a very robust and frank discussion about the settlement schemes around Mpeketoni, Hongwe and elsewhere in Lamu West. There were echoes of what Bujra had mentioned earlier about a  déjà vu sense of cultural invasion, in terms eerily reminiscent of passages from Ngugi wa Thiong’o of European colonial settlements in the so called “White Highlands”-complete with the sense of cultural alienation and near annihilation. I was slightly startled at the intensity of the feelings expressed but when one of the participants boldly and baldy foretold a coming conflagration in Lamu over land with overtones of ethnic enmity, I had my eyes wide open, taking furious notes as he went on to warn that if left unchecked what may end up unfolding in Lamu may make the post-election violent skirmishes in the former Rift Valley appear like child play.

When I pressed on, playing devil’s advocate to tease out the details I uncovered that the elephant in Lamu was the huge influx of Gikuyu migrants and settlers making Mpeketoni what some locals considered a second GEMA homeland. As  raw and as uncomfortable and as politically incorrect the conversation unfolded it is clear that there is a lot of seething rage in Lamu today over the unresolved land issues in contemporary Lamu and the continued influx of Kenyans who are considered “outsiders” from up country into the archipelago.

“We Lamu and Coastal people have for centuries welcomed and embraced visitors into our midst. Many people have come to Lamu, Mokowe, Hongwe, Mpeketoni, Manda-you name it. Some have become Muslim; intermarried, made Lamu their home, speak in the Amu dialect- you cannot tell they came from Kirinyaga, Machakos, Meru, Kisumu, Bungoma.  They have become part of us; they are our neighbours our friends. But how do you go to someone’s home; grab their land; kick them out; bring your own family members, recreate and rename the neighbourhoods after your own villages up country. On top of that you come into the local elections and attempt to usurp power! A significant percentage of the  ward representatives of the Lamu County Assembly are from one ethnic group! The Member of the National Assembly is called Ndegwa for crying out loud!  Be more respectful of us! At least give us the courtesy to run the affairs of our own county! Already only two tribes are dominating the national government! Can’t the Lamu people govern Lamu? We fear that this LAPSSET project which requires a population of one million will make us, the indigenous people of Lamu, lose our cultural, religious and ethnic identity forever. We are only 100,000 right now in the whole of Lamu!”

Very sobering thoughts.

Click on the link below for the entire issue of Firimbi # 37 saved in PDF format: