Forceful Evictions of Maasai from Narasha: A Recipe for Tribal Clashes in Kenya

July 28, 2013

By Ben Ole Koissaba

Kenya was at it again last Friday, July 28, 2013 when a land ownership dispute that has lasted the last 33 years pitting the Maasai and Kikuyu in Naivasha took an ugly turn. Reminiscent of the post-election violence of 2007/2008, over 200 youths believed to be members of the proscribed sect Mungiki under the escort of heavily armed police men descended on the Maasai community in Narasha with all manner of crude  weapons burning and destroying 240 houses. The arsonists who were protected by the armed police rendered 2,300 people homeless, killed over 20 calves and over 600 lambs. During the raid two elderly Maasai men sustained bullet wounds as well as cuts from machetes and are recuperating in hospitals

Narasha is home and ancestral land of the Maasai who have suffered massive land dispossession dating back to the 1900 when the colonial government forced the Maasai out of 75 % of their ancestral land and subsequent post-independence government driven initiatives that have continued to alienate land from the Maasai. The tussle for ownership is as a result of ownership of the over 15,000 Acre land that the Maasai claim ancestral ownership but the Kikuyu claim ownership resulting from an allocation by the first post-independence president Jomo Kenyatta who happens to be the father of the current president.

The bone of contention is the land is rich with geothermal power and government functionaries want to make a kill by displacing the Maasai. Narasha village is sitting on a lucrative geothermal power potential and a combination of senior government officials, businessmen and energy giant KenGen are all involved in making sure the Maasai people are moved away from the area. The geothermal project has attracted both multi-national and bilateral donors with the World Bank being the main financier of the project.

The forces behind the inhuman act are Kenya’s energy generating giant, KenGen is undeniably at the center of the problems facing the Maasai people in Olkaria.The company has embarked on a new geothermal power push that will add 560 megawatts of power to the Kenya’s national grid. This is so far the largest geothermal project in the world. The Ksh 165 billion (US$2 billion) projects will require expansion beyond the current land that KenGen’s wells occupy in Olkaria. Narasha community is at the middle of the areas earmarked for the new geothermal wells. KenGen has for the last few years been negotiating with the Maasai in Olkaria on issues of compensation and relocation. Not all is going well with this process. There are big trust issues between the parties.

Ngati Farm is a company owned by the Kikuyu from central Kenya who claims to have bought farm from colonialists in 1964. The company and the Maasai have for the last 33 years been fighting court battles. The Maasai have called the land home for the last 400 years. With the recent push by KenGen for geothermal power generation, the land is worth billions of shillings and the stakes are higher for both parties.

Leading the pack behind the evictions is Eddy Njoroge, the former Managing Director of KenGen and currently President Kenyatta’s advisor on energy and petroleum is closer to the Maasai-Olkaria troubles than anyone else. He knows the potential of the resources on the ground but also knows the ability of the community to fight back. Sources claim that he is planning to buy the disputed Narasha land from Ngati Farm as long as the Maasai problem is brought to an end. Njoroge is also said to be closely associated with a tender by KenGen that will see another geothermal plant developed at Narasha.

The Governor of Nakuru Kinuthia Mbugua is said to be the mastermind of the Enarasha attack as well as another attack in the past. The former Administration Police Commissioner has a long history of hostility with the Maasai in Naivasha. He claims to be a member of Ngatia Farm, the company in the centre of the historical dispute for this Maasai ancestral land. The Maasai were still living in the area and were never consulted. Kinuthia is said to be personally interested in a piece of land currently being occupied by the family of Odupoi ole Parsitau and has approached the family with a Ksh 2 million price and asked them to move away. Ole Parsitau declined the offer. After being elected as Governor, sources say Kinuthia has vowed to remove the Maasai from Nakuru County. He is said to be planning evictions in Kedong Ranch – another historically disputed area. Governor Mbugua will be a big beneficiary of KenGen’s projects.

Amos Gathecah, the new Nakuru County Commissioner is Governor Mbugua’s foot soldier. He has been used as a go-between in negotiations with Enarasha community.  Gathecah recently held a meeting with leaders from Narasha at Nashipae Hotel in Naivasha and offered Ksh 31 million so that the community can relocate from the area. The offer was declined and he made a threat that he will use the same money to fight the community and force them to leave the area. This meeting was triggered by a June 19 petition by the community to the National Land Commission on the dispute with Ngatia Farm. The Commission started investigations that will delay the plans for generation of Geothermal Power in the area.

Helen Kiilu led dozens of policemen to support Governor Mbugua’s hired goons in attacking Narasha. Ms. Kiilu takes orders from Commissioner Gathecah. 

Former Councilor Ole Linti, a former area councilor is said to have changed allegiance in exchange of a share in Ngati farm or the proceeds from the KenGen deals. Ole Linti has a long history of fighting for the community against Ngati Farm and KenGen. He is said to have run out of steam after many years of struggle.

While the government denies knowledge of the evictions, the presence of the police and the manner in which the raids were carried out is indicative of a well-executed plan with backing from state machinery.

--Ben Ole Koissaba is a PhD Student in International Family and Community Studies at Clemson University, SC and Founder and Chair of the Maa Civil Society Forum in  Kenya