By Edwin Simiyu
We set out to meet the squatters on the Mogotio sisal plantations, the communities living here are faced with an eminent threat of evictions, a place they call home. The team that set out from Nakuru included Edwin Simiyu (Muungano Support Trust), Beatrice Njehia (Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, Nakuru County) and Paul Muthama (Muungano wa Wanavijiji, Nakuru county). We meet our host organization, Dandelion Africa at their offices located at Stage one, next to Kabarak. We interacted with our hosts Wendo and Maria briefly on some of the works that Dandelion is doing to assist empower the women and the youth.
Some of the projects they have successfully assisted the communities to implement include; the Mushroom project, Cake baking and animal rearing. This has been made possible through the concept of table banking.
After the meeting at the office, we proceeded to Mogotio where we were to meet the affected communities. On our way we by passed an IDP camp, which had been established for the people who had been affected by floods. Despite the fact, that the floods have subsided, these group of people have not been able to move back to their homes. Several reasons can be cited to this situation:
1) Is that the person/group of persons who assisted set up the camp, may be benefiting a lot from their continued stay in these camps so that more aid can be attracted from donors.
2) Some of the people, their houses were destroyed by the floods and hence have not been able to put up new structures.
3) The people have now gotten used to the donors aid, and there are cases of those who have gone back to their houses but have maintained the tents and they keep on coming back once they hear there is a group visiting the camp. Their intention is to continue benefiting from the camps, when in real sense they have resumed their normal lives.
The most disturbing thing is that some people are still setting up new tents as we passed by. This highlights the level of dependence that these people have developed and are willing to continue practicing as long as they are not assisted to develop a positive mindset and be empowered to find solutions to their plight.
As you arrive at Mogotio, you would encounter staff quarters set up by the sisal plantation owner for the members of his staff working in the factories. The physical conditions of the houses already give a picture of the kind of situation that goes on around this place. These houses have been there for long and there are no efforts to renovate them despite the fact that most of them are tearing down. They lack basic services, without forgetting the fact that several families are forced to share a house. This gives a sneak view of what we expect to get in the sisal plantations once we start interacting with the squatters who most of them have been working in the sisal plantations. The only advantage that the staff has over the squatters is that they have a communal toilet unlike the squatters who are not even allowed to build toilets. The sisal plantations occupy a very huge tract of land, over 10,000 acres to be precise
We then start entering the sisal plantations using motorbikes as the villages are far apart from each other and the paths are not motorable to allow the use of a vehicle. The arrangement of the villages gives a reminder of the Malindi salt belt, where a total of 19 settlements were distributed within a 50 km radius, comprising about 7 salt companies. In this case we have about 3 plantation owners with an estimated number of 9 villages distributed within the plantation.
The first village we visited was Kilinga where we met Mama Mimo, Eunice Kipngetich and Hellen among other people. They shared their stories on how long they have stayed on this parcel of land and all the efforts they have made to meet the owner, a Mr. Arion, to discuss a solution to the numerous eviction threats issued to them. Since Mr. Arion took over the management of the plantation, which belongs to his father Malcolm Bell, Mama Mimo has moved four times from the place she resided before. Each of the four times, she was evicted from her previous residence. There has been a general feeling within the community members that they will soon be running out of options on the next place to move to once they come evicting them again. There is a portion of the land that Mr. Arion sold to the government to resettle the Mau evictees as well as IDPs from Mt. Elgon. Some of the squatters had also been identified to be resettled, but when the actual resettlement happened, all the squatters were left out.
Efforts by the squatters to have Mr. Arion set aside a portion of the land, which they can buy and settle on has been futile as the owner has not been willing to engage them. There was an eviction that had just happened in another village between Lomolo and Kilinga. Some of the people who have contributed to their miseries include the former MP, Luca Kigen who is believed to have contributed to the process of locking out the squatters from a resettlement plan process. The incumbent MP, Mr. Raymond Moi has shown some goodwill of assisting the squatters especially in advocating against any eviction process. There is also a county ward representative, who lives within the plantation, but who the community sees as a traitor, since he has never been there for them. He has been using them for political mileage and it is believed he assisted in brokering the deal for the land that was sold for the resettlement of the Mau evictees together with Mr. Kigen, whom it is alleged personally benefited from the process but locked out the squatters’ efforts to be resettled.
The next village we visited was Kaptich. Kaptich apparently is a Kalenjin word that means cowshed. Here we met Gladys Cheruto (the chair lady). Others included, Emily Kiptoo, Paulina – ‘shosho’, Mitchell cheptoo and Mzee Kimunya. As they narrated their history on the parcel of land, you are moved by the situation they are in.
“I have lived on this plantation since the year 1954” – those were the words of
“I have lived on this land since I was a small girl” – shosho Paulina explains
One thing that is clear that they have moved countless times within the plantation to an extent that they are tired of all these movements and are not sure where they move next once the bull-dozers come calling. One thing that they very unhappy about is the fact that they cannot be allowed to build toilets on parcel of land they are squatting on.
Other issues that emerged in our discussion were;
a) The level of security is very low – the children for instance have to walk long distances to Mogotio where they can find schools and other basic services. The only school within the plantation i.e. Kilinga primary is still developing and has only reached standard four. As they walk, they are passing through sisal plantations, some places being too bush and hence their vulnerability of meeting strangers and even other wild animals.
b) No farming activities are allowed even in the small parcels of land they are squatting on. This exposes them to food scarcity and hence the need to continue working in the sisal plantations to be able to earn a living and put food on the table. Dandelion Africa has been assisting them by empowering them to hire farming land away from the plantation where they can practice agriculture and hence generate food for their families.
c) Those living along the river are currently being evicted with the intention believed to be that the owner wants to plant vegetables along the river and hence clearing the land for the same.
Based on these issues, we discussed on the strategies that we may adopt to assist these communities solve their land issues in the near future.
First we identified all the villages affected currently. They are Kwa Elijah, Malgeywo, Kaptera, Tastahi, Kabarak (Patel), Lomolo, Kaptich and Kilinga. We agreed on the need to mobilize all these communities to come together and start table banking as they also develop a vision for the community. Based on this, the community members agreed that they will take a period of one week to reach out to all these communities and others that may be living within the plantation.
“After one week therefore, there is need for Dandelion Africa and Muungano, Nakuru County to organize a community forum to meet all the affected people to agree on the advocacy strategy for the land”
We also agreed on the need of enumeration as a tool to mobilize the communities and also provide information that will be used to empower them in their advocacy work as they pursue alternatives to the land issue. The enumerations have been tentatively scheduled. Two possible ways of doing the enumerations were identified:
a) Numbering of the structures and enumeration of the households within those structures. The team to carry out the process can therefore be trained and data collection done.
b) Enumerating the households from a central place within the settlements. This will be done concurrently for all the settlements. This method only pause the challenge of reaching all the households within the settlements but cuts down on the enumeration duration to one day. This was based on the fact that there have been local leaders who have not been very supportive of the squatters’ efforts and hence may be used by the owners to stop the data collection.
The general agreement was that the local leaders should be informed about the process and be invited to support the community initiatives. If they remain adamant, then the community will move on with the process because they are the people who are suffering. We also agreed to explore the need to use method (a) above so as to reach all the households within the settlements, so as to generate as detailed information as possible for all the affected people. Nakuru County will identify a team of between 6 and 10 enumerators who can work with the local enumerators to assist the different villages in carrying out the enumerations.
As we moved out of the plantations, we saw a number of the plots that have been demarcated and sold to private developers. Sisal is being cut down to create these plots for sale. This shows the owners willingness to sell the land and hence need to find a strategy to make the owner see the squatters just like the other people whom he is selling the land to. Off course this will need a change of heart for him to agree to sit with the squatters and talk. This therefore becomes the first option to explore once the necessary tools have been put in place. Word has it that each acre is going for about Kshs. 200,000. Our only worry is that the next time we visit the settlements, how many more people will have been evicted? It seems the owner is on a mission – on one hand he is keen to generate extra income through selling part of the plantation while on the other hand he is keen to reclaim the areas that the squatters are residing on. This is currently being done in an orthodox way such as planting the sisal all around somebody’s house to make his life miserable and forcefully push him/her out.