In Kenya, the deep pull of land drove grievances – and ethnic violence
For the ethnic Kalenjins of Kenya's Rift Valley, the red, iron-rich soil is something worth fighting for, and many still resent the 'invasion' of other ethnic groups who bought coffee and tea plantations left after British colonial rule.
It may be hard to understand the power of land in African society. But for the 70 percent of Africans who make their living from agriculture – either farming their own land or working as tenant farmers on the land of others – land is more important than gold.Skip to next paragraph
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To have even a small one-acre plot means the ability to raise enough food to feed one’s family for a year. Not having that land means risking starvation.
Small wonder, then, that some rural Africans can be persuaded by their leaders and politicians to kill in the name of land.
For the ethnic Kalenjins of Kenya's Rift Valley, the red, iron-rich soil is something worth fighting and killing for, and many still resent the “invasion” of ethnic Kikuyus who bought most of the Rift Valley's coffee and tea plantations after Kenya's British colonial masters left following independence in 1963. Many Kalenjins believe that these Kikuyu “foreigners” were given unfair advantage to buy tracts of land by the ethnic Kikuyu under Kenya’s first black president, Jomo Kenyatta.
These grievances form the basis of Kalenjin politics in the Rift Valley, and they are the underlying ideology for a group of powerful supporters of the Rift Valley’s embattled top politician, former agriculture minister William Ruto.
Mr. Ruto, who is plagued by a corruption scandal and by investigations into his role in the orchestrated violence that killed 1,200 people and displaced 300,000 after the disputed Dec. 27, 2007, elections, is now at the center of an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) at The Hague. He could be the first Kenyan to face charges of crimes against humanity.
“The Kikuyu community invaded the Rift Valley and found little or no resistance in acquiring property or vast business enterprises, and they misinterpreted this to mean weakness on the side of the Kalenjin people,” read the minutes from a Dec. 20, 2009, meeting of the "Friends of the Hon. William Ruto," a group of prominent members of the Kalenjin community that this year has discussed plans to form a militia of young men to attack rival ethnic groups and obstruct the ICC's case against Ruto by intimidating witnesses. “Gradually [the Kikuyus] came to control all sectors of the economy.... Because of the acquired wealth stolen from the people of the Rift Valley, the Kikuyu community is in a position to systematically destroy us starting with our leaders and eventually taking control of all the sectors in the region with the help of these selfish sell-outs.”