Lekishon Sankara sits on an old bench overlooking the Nairobi-Namanga road, outside a shop at Bissil shopping centre in Kajiado County. Vehicles zooming past do not seem to startle him out of his deep continuous thoughts.
The tired and weary looking 65-year-old man was once wealthy with over 2,000 livestock and 300 acres of land. Today, he is left with only 20 goats, and without any piece of land.
For five years now, Sankara has lived in a small rental house at the shopping centre after he sold his land.
“Around 2004, people came and advised us to sell some of our idle land and use the money on other things. They brought the buyers and helped us to sell the land,” he recalls, a distant look engulfing him.
Sankara is a member of the new class of landless Maasais in Ngong, Rongai, Kitengela, Eremit, Ol Tepesi, Kisames, Enkoireroi, Kiserian, Kitengela, Isinya and Olooloitikoshi in Kajiado County. They earned this new status after selling their ancestral land.
Many of them do not believe that they actually have no land any more for they assumed that theirs was inexhaustible.
A recent survey – Baseline on Effective Land Ownership, Management and Transfer in the Context of Rapid Urbanisation and Change – among the Maasai of Kajiado County, indicates that the uncontrolled sale of land started in 2003 and has been a huge industry in the county.
Those who have bought land and settled in the county range from individuals to corporates, Government institutions to international companies and universities. Kajiado is now dubbed the ‘United Nations County’ because almost all Kenyan ethnic communities and other nationalities have settled there.
Elijah Agevi, who was involved in the research, says brokers and agents have all along been enticing old people especially and treating them well in various high class hotels.
“These are elites and majority of them are Maasai themselves. It is a classic example of a man-eat-man society as the locals exploit their tribesmen,” says Agevi.
A member of the County Land Management Board, who opted to speak anonymously, says when the sale of land became a huge industry in Kajiado County many people left their professions to become brokers and land agents, and they are now millionaires.
Agevi says there has been a joke that the easiest way to be a millionaire in Kajiado County, is by becoming a land dealer. After one year, you retire with hundreds of millions.
Most locals sold their land for luxuries such as big houses, fancy cars, women and expensive alcohol.
Alex Ole Maitera from Osilalei village says he sold his land to pay fees for his children.
“After paying fees, l used the rest to build a house and bought a car,” he explains. However, his children abandoned school in primary.
A businessman and civil activist Julius Ole Ntiang’au says many locals were enticed into selling land to live in luxury.
“I have been around here and most people sold land to buy cars, build permanent houses and travel to Mombasa and other big towns to enjoy the good life, not for school fees,” he says.
Most of the transactions were done in bars, market places, restaurants and five star hotels where they spent the days when they had plenty of money from the sale of their land. Agevi explains that at the time, it was good money, but it was simply not put to good use.
This has led to locals becoming poorer and poorer.
Poorer and poorer
All the money is gone. The land is gone too.
Ntiang’au explains that those who had gotten used to the good life, sold their livestock to maintain their newly acquired tastes.
The survey states that many families now do not have land and have problems with accommodation and accessing pasture. Most graze animals on other people’s farms and on the roadside. Some walk long distances to graze or venture into forests for pasture.
Sankara grazes his goats along the road.
According to the Kajiado County Land Management Board, initially, local people did not notice the emergence of cartels that comprised land agents or brokers who colluded with some officers in the Lands office and fraudulently sold their land.
The survey explains that lack of transparency and accountability in the County Land Office has made land brokers thrive and many land transactions unclear.
Ole Sabore says he sold only 50 of his 200 acres to start a shop in Kajiado town. He later learnt that he had allegedly sold over 100 acres.
“I can’t explain how it turned out to be that huge figure,” says a dazed Sabore.
The locals were not aware that during selling, the cartels measured hectares as acres. Reports from the board indicates that those involved are being investigated and include Land registrars and clerks.
“Here, it was common that a broker would be the one handling files in the Land registrar’s office,” says an employee at the Lands office in confidence.
The locals agree that they were paid their money in cash. A pastor with African Inland Church Maili Tisa, Sankale Tarankei, explains that the brokers preferred paying sellers in cash because it was easy to confuse and rip them off.
“The sellers had no idea exactly how much the buyer had paid, and ended up receiving less than the original amount agreed upon,” says the pastor. This benefited the cartels as most sellers were illiterate.
The survey indicates that of the adult household heads 43.8 per cent had no education. This had great implications on the probability of engaging in fraudulent land sales and transfers.
In many homes, there are grounded, top of the range cars. A young man who declined an interview is said to have sold land for Sh30 million and bought a Range Rover at Sh20 million. The car was grounded after he exhausted the money.
In Kajiado, there are lots of signposts announcing land for sale including Kitengela-Namanga, Isinya-Kiserian, Kiserian-Magadi and Kitengela-Ongata-Rongai.
A crop of young people is now emerging and demanding their land back, claiming that they were never consulted when the business was transacted, or that their parents were conned by cartels. Some buyers have secretly extended boundaries.
Agevi describes this as a ticking time bomb. One of the youths, Daniel Simel, believes his father was swindled of more than 100 acres of their land by unscrupulous brokers.
“I have already reported to the County Lands Management Board and they are looking into the matter,” he explains.
Advocate Ben Musundi Waliubah terms the land issues in Kajiado County as a historical injustice. Unfortunately, it is not easy to reclaim the land since the transactions involved willing buyers and willing sellers, broker, agents, surveyors and anyone else who was involved notwithstanding.
Presently in law, the National Land Commission is mandated to handle such cases. “Let them forward their claims or grievances with evidence of each case and the Commission will look into the cases individually,” says Musundi.
At the time when most of the land was being sold, consent from family members was not needed. But now it is a legal requirement.
He says this consent policy might not provide a comprehensive solution, especially among the Maasai whose culture lists wives, children and livestock as a man’s belongings, as such he does not have to involve them in anything.