As the government intervenes to restore calm in the restive areas of Laikipia County, opinion has been divided on the cause of the violence. It has been a case of ‘this land belongs to us’ versus the sanctity of a title deed. For former National Assembly Speaker Francis ole Kaparo, who is also a resident of Laikipia, the problem was started by a lie that the leases of the big group ranches were ending in 2005 and that the land would revert to the indigenous communities, largely the Maasai. According to Mr Kaparo, this lie has been sustained by politicians seeking various elective seats.
The violence occurred in 2016, a year to the 2017 elections. It is happening now, again just a year to the elections. The former Speaker also talks of government failure to deal with the situation, instead preferring to handle the issue in piecemeal and only when there is an eruption of violence.
In an interview with the Saturday Nation, the former Speaker also talks about his relationship with Deputy President William Ruto and his friendship with former Prime Minister Raila Odinga. In the run up to the 2013 elections, Mr Kaparo was the chairman of Dr Ruto’s URP party, which was among the tens that folded to form the Jubilee Party ahead of the 2017 elections.
You led a delegation of Maasai leaders to a meeting with the former Prime Minister at Capitol Hill the other day. A few years ago you were the chairman of URP before it folded into Jubilee. When did you make the move to start working with Mr Raila Odinga?
First of all URP was killed. So it doesn’t exist and you can’t belong to a party that doesn’t exist. I have never been a member of Jubilee, for your information. When they folded all the parties to form Jubilee, I decided it was of no use to belong to any political party because honestly, they are not political entities but vehicles for seeking power, and they are disposed of immediately power is attained.
You were asking me why I was with Raila. Because he is a Kenyan like me. Even then, which politician in the current line-up have I not associated with?
The first time I was elected Speaker on January 25, 1993, look at the library footage, and you will see that the people who escorted me to be sworn in were Raila’s father and the late (Prof George) Saitoti. Raila’s father was in the opposition and Saitoti was the vice-president. Raila himself was in Parliament at the time so he is someone I know and we have never had any personal differences. I would say the same for the others like Kalonzo Musyoka. I know them. They have all been in Parliament under my speakership.
Were you in support of URP and other parties folding to form Jubilee Party?
I wasn’t involved because I wasn’t consulted. At that time, I was not even in URP because I had resigned to join NCIC. That said, I did not agree with the decision and I told the owner of the party as much.
What is your relationship with the Deputy President? At one time you were the chairman of his party and then the other day you were at Capitol Hill with the former Prime Minister?
Nothing happened. We haven’t met for five years and we haven’t spoken over the same period. You know that is a long time. There is no disagreement whatsoever. It is just that nothing has been happening between us. Each of us has been focusing on our areas and interests. Nothing happened between us and nothing is happening even now. There is no obligation on either of us to work together.
The situation in Laikipia has been a recurring problem. In your opinion, what is the origin of the violence?
We have had skirmishes about three times. The initial one was much smaller and that was in 2005. Some youngsters from the Maasai community spread the falsehood, under the guidance of a prominent politician who has since passed on, that the leases of the big group ranches in Laikipia were ending. And because the leases were ending, the land would revert to the Maasais. They said that there was a 1906 agreement for 99 years which elapsed in 2005. At that time, the Maasais in Laikipia were 90 per cent illiterate.
The colonialists removed the Maasais from their land starting in 1914 and it went on until the last removal in 1959. At the time they were not many, but over the years, the community has multiplied. That land that was left to them by the colonial government could no longer sustain their livelihoods.
When colonialism ended, the government acquired some land to settle some Kenyans but they never settled the indigenous people here. No single settlement was created for the Laikipia Maasai. It was bought to settle other people. Therefore, the Maasai continued to live on land that at the time of the agreement could have sustained them but which was no longer able to sustain them. So there is a grievance that “this land belongs to us and government has never settled us”.
Then someone comes to misinform them that the leases have ended. It was naturally expected that the people would listen to that, get emotionally involved and do what they did. The truth of the matter is that it was a falsehood because over the years, for reasons I can’t explain, those leases were increased to 999 years, which is forever. The people were therefore misled.
From 2005 when it was alleged that the leases had ended, none of the farms have been made available to the locals. So you have that falsehood actually starting the violence we are seeing.
The second false issue is, even if the leases ended, to whom does the land revert? Obviously it reverts to the government because it is the government that leased it out. So it is the government that will settle people. If it is a just government, it will settle the people to whom the land originally belonged. And if it is an unjust government it can give it to people from far off.
In 2016, because that is the second time it happened, it was just a year to the elections like it is happening now. There was a politician riding on that falsehood that “we must recover this land, take it back and give it to the community”. They invaded the big ranches. It was emotional and there was destruction of property. There was a lot of loss of lives. Anyway, the situation was contained. After the election, everything cooled down for almost four years. Now it is beginning again.
This time round it is not targeted at the large scale ranches owned by the whites. This time it is targeting smallholders, basically fellows who own little parcels of land. We are talking about the Kikuyus, Kisiis, Turkanas and associated communities. It has caused a lot of havoc.
The problem is people tell lies and the recipients of such falsehoods are too lazy to find out the facts. Everything now is being blamed on the drought. True, there is drought, but drought often hits Laikipia. There were thousands and thousands of cattle from Samburu, Isiolo and Baringo. Who told them the cattle from Laikipia do not eat grass? The little grass that was there has been finished and now they direct their cattle to people’s farms, igniting the violence.
These smallholders are Kenyans and they are entitled to that land. It does not matter whether they bought it or they were resettled there. They are lawfully there and nobody has a right to take it away from them. I know a lot of hot-heads who don’t want to hear this, but I repeat that we must respect the lawful property of other people.
These people say they are looking for grass and water for their animals, but you have also seen schools and homes being burned. What grass or water will come out of a burning classroom or homestead? What cow will eat ashes? Why would you burn schools and homesteads? Isn’t that a way to uproot people? To me it is political and looks like ethnic cleansing and must be stopped at all costs. We cannot live in a society led by chaotic people.
As a resident of Laikipia and a national leader, what can be done to deal with this problem?
Just get rid of all cattle from outside Laikipia. There are cattle from Isiolo, from Samburu, from Baringo... they should be asked to go back to their counties. The government must put its foot down and ensure that every Kenyan who owns property and lives in Laikipia lives in peace irrespective of their ethnicity. All Kenyans should be allowed to live in peace and the law should deal with those who want to cause trouble.
Are you satisfied with the government intervention to bring calm to the area so far?
No, absolutely not, and for several reasons. You know the current problem began manifesting in March 2019 at a group ranch in Laikipia North inhabited by Maasais. People from Isiolo came and invaded that place, grazed on it by force, killed about 12 people and stole a lot of livestock. Nothing was done to them by the government. This emboldened them. They even went to community conservancies, not white-owned land, and grazed them bare. When everything was finished they moved on to Loisaba.
From March this year, we have warned the government of build-up of cattle from Isiolo, from Samburu, particularly Samburu East, and from Tiaty in Baringo. They did not act on that information at all. Of course the government functionaries will always promise to do something but do nothing. When there is death they come and talk tough and go away.
Right now, there is some lull in the violence. But I don’t know how long it will last. Since government intervened, there has been a drop in incidences of killings and arson. But for the last two or three days, Rumuruti Town has been going through mayhem in spite of all the security personnel deployed in Laikipia. There must be something wrong with the coordination and implementation of instructions.
I suspect the greatest hindrance to restoring peace in Laikipia is lies. There are lies from politicians from outside. You saw in the Senate, Senator Ledama Olekina from Narok saying a lot of things about Laikipia. What has Narok got to do with Laikipia? The senator of Samburu was moving some kind of a motion on the insecurity in Laikipia. What does Samburu have to do with Laikipia? You see a lot of these people talking about Laikipia and they have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.
Then there are lies from government functionaries who have failed to protect the people. They always lie higher up so that they don’t take the blame or don’t get punished. The easiest excuse they give is political interference when they have failed.
What is the local leadership, including yourself, doing about the violence? Why are your efforts not being felt?
What can you do if government officers cannot answer your calls? They won’t call you to a meeting and won’t be reached until many people have died. The ones you can meet are the ones at the local level who themselves are part of the problem. There is very little we can do.
Can you figure out the desperation that one goes through when you cannot help save a situation when you know there is a problem and you could get it solved? But there is an impenetrable wall in every government office.