Rift in Kenya Cabinet over Masai Land Rights
NAIROBI, Kenya — A Kenyan Cabinet minister threw his weight behind a campaign by Masai tribesmen to reclaim ancestral land allocated to British settlers Thursday, breaking ranks with the government on the controversial issue.
Masai tribesmen have held three demonstrations this month to demand the return of land given to British settlers in a 1904 colonial treaty, which the Masai say expired on Aug. 15.
However, the Kenyan government has rejected the claims and sent paramilitary police to keep Masai and their livestock off private ranches in the area.
Lands Minister Amos Kimunya said Wednesday the Masai were mistaken and that most of the land treaties signed were in excess of 900 years.
Minister of State William Ole Ntimama, a member of the Masai, denounced Kimunya's statements as a "fallacy."
"I think it is a fallacy ... it is not humanly imaginable that there was a treaty of 1,000 years between the Masai and the colonial government," Ntimama told a news conference on Thursday.
Ntimama, who is the highest-ranking Masai tribesman in the government, said the Masai had been forced off their ancestral land by British colonialists.
"The Masai have never accepted that there was an agreement at all. The Masai land was annexed under a state of war by the colonial government; they were moved forcefully," he said.
Ntimama called for dialogue among the government, white farmers, and the Masai to begin as soon as possible.
"The issue of compensation cannot be properly settled unless first the government accepts the fact that the land that was grabbed by the white man belongs to the Masai," he said.
Police fired tear gas to disperse dozens of Masai tribesmen who were marching to the British Embassy Wednesday to hand over a petition to High Commissioner Edward Clay.
Saturday, Kenyan police shot and killed a 70-year-old Masai man and wounded four other herdsmen grazing cattle on private land outside the central Kenyan town of Nanyuki.
Ntimama condemned the violence, saying the Masai were a law-abiding people. He appealed to white farmers to allow Masai herdsmen to graze cattle on their land, as there was no pasture or water due to the current drought.
"I would like to appeal to the ranchers to allow Masai to graze in some of the land. People are moving in desperation; there is no water or grass outside the electric fences (surrounding the farms)," he said.