Ventures Africa Magazine Should Stop Glorifying Stolen Wealth
In October 2013, Ventures Africa magazine came up with a list of 55 Billionaires in Africa. Kenya had four and according to careerpoint.com, “surprisingly, the common thread in the Kenyan billionaires is politics, apart from one, Mr Manu Chandaria.” Mama Ngina Kenyatta, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s mother, made it on the list with a net worth of KES 86 billion ($1 billion). According to businessdailyafrica.com (October 8th), Mama Ngina is credited for controlling the vast wealth of the Kenyatta family that also “owns thousands of acres of prime land across Kenya that was acquired by the late President Kenyatta in the ‘60s and ‘70s under a settlement transfer fund scheme that allowed government officials acquire land from the British cheap prices.” The aim of Ventures magazine is to “showcase the business aspect of Africa to the world. At Ventures Africa we champion African Capitalism by celebrating Africa success, free enterprise, the entrepreneurial spirit and the reward of hard work” (see ventures-africa.com). However, from a moral point of view, the magazine should distinguish between wealth “acquired” through political influence and that acquired systematically through hard work.
Issues of land redistribution and ownership in post-colonial Africa remain contentious and have been dealt with differently in many countries. On October 1, 2004 Otsieno Nyamwaya wrote in the East African Standard newspaper that: “In fact, according to the Kenya Land Alliance, more than a half of the arable land in the country is in the hands of only 20 per cent of the 30 million Kenyans. That has left up to 13 per cent of the population absolutely landless while another 67 per cent on average own less than an acre per person.” Ventures Africa stated that the late Jomo Kenyatta acquired land cheaply “under a settlement transfer scheme that allowed government officials acquire land from the British at cheap prices.” This must be corrected because the purpose of the ‘Settlement Transfer Fund Scheme’ was to “enable the African farmers to purchase European owned land. Towards this end, agreement was reached between the Kenya and British Governments whereby the latter agreed to finance through loans and grants the purchase of 1 million acres of European Settler farms adjacent to densely populated African areas. These lands were then to be subdivided into what were considered economic units and allocated to African farmers.” (In: Report of the Ndungu Commission on Illegal and Irregular Allocation of Public Land, p.123).
An online commentary titled: ‘What is STFS?’ presents a narrative of what went wrong with the resettlement program under Jomo Kenyatta. “Upon the exit of colonial settlers at independence, Jomo Kenyatta’s new government offered to BUY land being vacated by the white settlers – land they never paid for in the first place. Jomo Kenyatta conspired with the British government and the World Bank to sign a loan called the Settler Transfer Fund Scheme (STFS) which was to be used to compensate these departing colonial settlers for the land they had earlier grabbed. The loan was signed on the backs of Kenyan taxpayers – payable over decades. Kenyatta had lied to Kenyans that the loan was justified and worthy because it would benefit transfer of colonial land titles to previously expropriated indigenous owners of land. But what happened as soon as the white settlers were compensated became the greatest betrayal of Kenyans – an issue that led to the fallout between Kenyatta and his then Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.”
Land-grabbing under President Jomo Kenyatta
A section of an article posted at the Kenya Stockholm Blog on January 21, 2012 is cited verbatim below to capture how Jomo Kenyatta’s administration hijacked STFS from poor Kenyans and instead allocated huge tracts of land to himself and cronies.
“The process of transferring British-owned land to Kenyan peasants through the British-World Bank sponsored loan program named, Settlement Transfer Fund Schemes (STFS), was riddled with grand corruption. Jomo Kenyatta saw to it that those who benefited were only his close Kikuyu cronies, a few non-Kikuyu senior civil servants, and loyal politicians.
In his book titled: ‘Politicized Ethnic Conflict in Kenya: A Periodic Phenomenon’, scholar Walter Oyugi noted that: “Using the political and economic leverage available to them during the Kenyatta regime, the Kikuyu took advantage of the situation and formed many land-buying companies. These companies would, throughout the 1960s and 1970s, facilitate the settlement of hundreds of thousands of Kikuyu in the Rift Valley.”
“Kenyatta cronies including Mbiyu Koinange, Njoroge Mungai and others devised a clever scheme to further benefit themselves from the land transferred from the colonialists. They formed land-buying companies through loans which were actually funded with tax-payer money. At the height of land buying companies, most of the power brokers acquired huge chunks of land at the expense of the landless, who were meant to be the initial beneficiaries of the scheme” (see: ‘Who owns the land? Blood and soil issues in the Kenyan Rift Valley’).
According to Jennifer Widner (1992), “by 1971, more than 60 per cent large-scale farms around Nakuru and 40 per cent of small scale settler farms, were held by Kikuyu, who fared very well from this arrangement, at the expense of other Kenyan communities (in: ‘The Rise of A Party-State in Kenya: From “Harambee!” to “Nyayo!”’).
In his memoirs, ‘Kenyatta Struggles’, former Central Bank Governor Duncan Ndegwa, explains that Kenyatta initiated the type of settlement farms called “permanent improvement units”. This was after realizing that some Africans had taken over a mansion with 24 rooms abandoned by a white settler, yet could not maintain its high standards and lit charcoal braziers in it. He was disappointed and decided that such property must be protected. According to Ndegwa, who was also Kenya’s first head of civil service, Kenyatta ordered that from then henceforth, “any farm that had such property would be given to individuals in lots of 100-acres.” On that particular day, Kenyatta and Ndegwa had been in Ol Kalau, parceling out land with some settlement officers. At the end of the exercise, Kenyatta seized one permanent improvement unit surrounded by a beautiful orchard for himself and sighed, “Ni ka minoga” (it is for hard work).
The parceling out of 100-acre plots (code named Z plots) to the elite, was not what the British had anticipated when they set up the STFS. Although other tribes were affected by landlessness, the Kikuyu were worst hit because the British had occupied huge areas of Central province and many had been pushed into the forests during the Mau Mau war. Records indicate that some had also gone to work on white farms in the Rift Valley. However, Kenyatta overruled efforts to do away with the 100-acre plots’ system, when he found out that the British and a few Kenyan government officials felt it digressed from the original plan of settling the poor, in former white occupied prime land.
Kenyatta began dishing out land free of charge, contrary to the STFS program. John Kamau wrote in Business Daily (November 10, 2009), that the process behind purchasing the Z plots was so secretive that only Lands minister Angaine and a few civil servants knew about it. The agreed land purchase had turned into land ‘allocation’. This was the beginning of land grabbing and impunity, with the full support of Jomo Kenyatta. Former freedom fighter Jesse Kariuki, was allocated land by Kenyatta without paying a penny. When the then Lands PS, Peter Shiyukah, asked Director of Settlement Maina Wanjigi, to compile a list of the big shots who had been allocated land, he realized that there were many others whose names appeared at the Lands ministry, but not on Wanjigi’s list. One of them was Mwai Kibaki, then-Finance assistant minister.
In the publication ‘Who owns the land? Blood and soil issues in the Kenyan Rift Valley’, the following background is noted on Kibaki’s land ownership: “One of President Kibaki’s earliest grabs is the 1,200-acre Gingalily Farm along the Nakuru-Solai road. And in the 1970s, Kibaki, who was then the minister for Finance under Kenyatta, via STFS transferred to himself, 10,000 acres in Bahati from the then Agriculture minister Bruce Mckenzie. Kibaki also owns another 10,000 acres at Igwamiti in Laikipia and 10,000 acres in Rumuruti in Naivasha. These are in addition to the 1,600 acre Ruare Ranch.”
How could Kikuyu peasants and the landless benefit, if the 100-acre package had already been hijacked by Kenyatta and his Kikuyu cronies? It meant quite a few rich members of the community owned so much land, shutting out the majority poor. Ironically, many of those big shots defaulted in loan payments (including Kibaki), and the poor Kenyan taxpayer was left with the burden of paying back to the British, a loan they barely knew about, let alone benefited from. Among the many defaulters were Cabinet ministers Jackson Angaine (Lands) and Gikonyo Kiano. John Kamau wrote: “An experiment to settle the landless and put them on the road to prosperity had collapsed even before it began.”
By listing Mama Ngina, Biwott and Merali among Africa’s billionaires, Ventures magazine has shown it is not concerned about their questionable sources of wealth. A simple online search indicates that these characters have over the years, exploited every political opportunity to create wealth at the expense of the taxpayers, and should therefore not be glorified.