Sunday October 3, 2004
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Occupied territory

Out of the 83 ranches in Laikipia District, 16 belong to whites, 20 to indigenous but influential and politically connected Kenyans, while 47 are communally owned.

All the ranches presumably fall under the Laikipia Wildlife Forum (LWF), which is currently chaired by Gilfrid Powys. The chairmanship is rotational and at one time, the Speaker of the National Assembly, Mr Francis ole Kaparo held it.

The forum was formed in 1992 and registered three years later as a non-profit making company, limited by guarantee.

The board members include former Constitutional Affairs minister Charles Njonjo and some of the directors have been incorporated from Mpala Research Foundation, the Kuki Gallman Memorial Foundation and the Kenya Wildlife Service district warden.

Outside the Rift Valley Province, the other vast land that has been "colonised" by expatriate white land barons has been the Taita Taveta District.

For almost the past 100 years, Taita Taveta District known more for its sisal estates and indentured wage labour from the local Taita people has been an "occupied territory", just like Naivasha and Laikipia before it.

After the end of the First World War, the British Government intent to reward some of its gallant sons who had helped the empire win the four-year campaign dished out the entire Taita Taveta district to the adventurist, land hunter and, racist per excellence, one Ewart Grogan.

Grogan, who also had another "very small" piece of land — just 50 acres — in Nairobi around where the Central Police Station stands, nevertheless went to settle in the sisal plantation. Grogan could not stand being governed by a black leader and so, immediately after Kenya was declared an independent state, he abandoned "his land" and went to South Africa.

In 1970, George Criticos, a Kenyan of Greek extraction, purchased the Taita Taveta land that once belonged to Grogan, presumably from the Government, after it reverted to its custody.

George bought the entire land estimated to be 100,000 plus acres, but parceled about a quarter of the land –– 24,000 acres, to the late President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, which he named Gicheha farm.

His son Basil assumed ownership of the land in the 1980s when the senior Criticos passed on.

In post-independent Kenya, there is probably no other district and people –– the Tavetas –– that have had their ancestral land so much expropriated by foreigners.

Today, Taita Taveta District is owned essentially by three families: The Kenyatta family, the Criticos family and the family of Eliud Mwamunga.

Mwamunga, an indigenous Taita, is a local landlord who in his heydays as a minister in the Kenyatta regime appropriated for himself 70,000 acres of land that amazingly includes Voi town.

In 2001, Criticos who represented Taita Constituency between 1988 and 2001 began experiencing "land" problems concerning his huge estate.

Because land problems in Kenya are invariably intertwined with politics, Criticos smelt dissent and has been reported to have said in confidence that they were some politicos in the former Kanu regime, who for a long time had been "marking time" for his land.

A former Assistant Minister for Roads and Public Works in Moi’s Government’s until his self-imposed exile, he once owned three-quarters of his constituency’s land.

After he immigrated to the US in 2001, his farm was allegedly sold far below the market value, allegedly either by his former employees or the National Bank of Kenya (NBK), which he ostensibly owed million of shillings.

The Kenyatta family is alleged to have bought Criticos’ land either directly or using a proxy. Recently though, Criticos returned to lay claim to his land, which he says he abandoned after his life was threatened by political forces he claimed were hostile to him and possibly his land.

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