Had the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) come to fruition, the violence and human displacement being visited on innocent residents in parts of Laikipia County would never have occurred.
No, wait, read on before setting this page ablaze.
I’m not talking about the raft of constitutional amendments under the aborted BBI referendum but the commonsense agenda first proposed under the ’Handshake’ deal between President Kenyatta and opposition chief Raila Odinga.
Lest we forget, the historic rapprochement of March 9, 2018 between the main protagonists from the previous two presidential elections was based on noble ideals. It was about finally tackling the serious divides, which, for too long, have pitted Kenyan against Kenyan and fuelled intermittent warfare around competition for resources, including land, and political power.
The deadly violence in Laikipia — defined as banditry, cattle rustling, ethnic cleansing, land clashes and resource conflict — is symptomatic of the many ignored issues from time immemorial, which will always erupt into atavistic bloodletting.
We have age-old divides and grievances that were not resolved at the advent of independence from colonial rule in 1963, evolution in 1992 to multi-party democracy from the one-party regime, exit of the Kanu dictatorship in 2002, and promulgation of the progressive current Constitution in 2010.
President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga promised to craft a path to national unity with the BBI. Unfortunately, most of the noble goals outlined in the nine-point agenda were buried under the weight of proposals geared towards easing the way for power capture deals.
Laikipia reminds us that unless we go back to the spirit of the original BBI, the issues we have refused to resolve heading towards 60 years of freedom, remain ticking time bombs.
The issues are well known and include historical grievances around land and settlement, skewed allocation of economic and social development resources, marginalisation and neglect of entire regions and communities, endemic poverty, tribalism and the entrenched culture of ethnic competition for political power and economic resources, unchecked corruption, crime and insecurity, and vast swathes of the country seemingly left behind in the Stone Age.
It’s easy to make the correlation between conflicts as seen in Laikipia and other parts of the country, particularly in northern and north-eastern regions, and our refusal as a nation to address their causes.
Laikipia is not just a policing or a peace and security issue but the outcome of real social and economic schisms in society.
It follows that the tough police action, absolutely necessary to restore peace and punish the culprits, must be accompanied by serious attempts at interrogating the underlying issues.
Failure or refusal to look for long-term solutions will only play into the hands of the bankrupt and depraved politicians who are always on the lookout for grievances that they can exploit for their selfish ends. Already, we’re seeing a fanning of the flames in ‘pamphleteering’ designed to illustrate the extent of inequity in land ownership in Laikipia.
The fact that a handful of white ranchers own nearly half the land in the county is a lightning rod for discontent. It will be used by an unholy alliance of politicians and activists to justify the current round of violence.
Narratives will also be dredged up around the injustice of the colonial Maasai land agreements of early last century.
What those narratives will conveniently ignore is that the current attacks have very little to do with historical grievances over land rights. Neither are they strictly linked to common tussles over pasture and grazing, especially in periods of drought.
What we’re witnessing is more likely linked to a deliberate incitement by politicians preparing the ground for next year’s General Election.
We have a long history of politicians engineering violence for their selfish ends, and this is no exception. They would not succeed in their evil machinations, however, if the grievances they so easily exploit were resolved once and for all.
This does not mean, however, that we resort to foolish and unworkable measures like mass relocation to pre colonial ethnic boundaries. If we try that, we might as well send all the Bantu communities to the Congo Forest or southern Africa and Nilotic peoples up the Nile to Sudan or Egypt.
It would be just as foolish to try and dispossess the owners of large ranches merely on the colour of their skin and cut up the lands into puny unproductive eighth-acre plots for redistribution to the landless.
What we urgently need is a national conversation towards a new Kenya, where all will have pride in ownership and none will be left behind.
[email protected] @MachariaGaitho