Mpeketoni, site of the massacre on Sunday of at least 56 people, was created in the 1960s by a large influx of Kikuyu who had been displaced from their land in Central Kenya during the State of Emergency in the 1950s.
The coastal town in Lamu county, which was predominantly Muslim, received the exodus of dispossessed farmers who had lost their land during the struggle for Independence.
The name Mpeketoni is an admixture of Swahili and English, the Swahili term “mpe” meaning to give one, and “katoni”, a version of the English word carton. As the displaced Kikuyus were unloaded from the lorries, the supplies officer in charge ordered that each family be given one carton of supplies. Hence, the name Mpeketoni as we know it today.
The population in the late 1990s was estimated at 25,000. Today it has around 50,000 people and is the most populous division of Lamu county. Tension between settlers and original inhabitants has been ongoing, as many locals say they have been deprived of their land that was given to the newcomers.
Before the arrival of the settlers, Mpeketoni and its surroundings were inhabited by Swahilis called Wabajuni and a small community of hunters and gatherers known as Wasanye, or the Sanyes, who are almost extinct. In addition to the Kikuyus, other Kenyans who had gone into self-imposed exile in Tanzania, decided to return after Independence.
Other communities in Mpeketoni include Luos and Kambas. Lamu is the only county in Kenya which has nearly has nearly 50 percent non-indigenous population, around 22 percent of the entire county. Jomo Kenyatta, the first president, was behind the initial push to resettle IDPs and current President Uhuru Kenyatta has donated land to resettle more farmers.
Many locals are opposed to the government’s move to resettle IDPs in the area. They have complained that postelection violence created a new influx of IDPs who are continually streaming to Mpeketoni and branching out into other nearby urban centres such as Witu and Mkunumbi. Last year President Uhuru donated land for the settlement of IDPs there.