The Final Call Online Edition



WEB POSTED 03-12-2002




How Kenyans see the land crisis in Zimbabwe

NAIROBI (PANA)—Like hundreds of thousands of his compatriots, Michael Karanja, who lives on the fringes of one of the large scale White-owned agricultural farms in Kenya’s Thika District, some 30 miles east of Nairobi—has been following with keen interest the ensuing feud in Zimbabwe between Pres. Robert Mugabe and White land holders. Mr. Karanja is especially interested in the European Union’s sanctions against Pres. Mugabe.

He says Mr. Mugabe is right to want to re-allocate stolen and unused land now owned by Whites to Black war veterans. Mr. Karanja also says that other African leaders are doing a disservice to the continent by not coming out openly to support an embattled freedom fighter.

"Mugabe is being vilified for standing up for the rights of his people. This land, the so-called farmers in Zimbabwe are now claiming to be theirs, was taken from Africans in a way of robbery, because they do not have the supporting documents to show that they rightfully bought it from Africans," charged Mr. Karanja, a 59-year-old father of six. And he is not alone.

Pres. Mugabe might be unpopular to the West and White Zimbabwean community, but he appears to be gaining support in Kenya where the issue is quite emotive because of the similarities in the two countries’ cases.

The Lancaster House (London) served as the venue for independence talks for the two countries—Kenya’s in 1960s and 1970s for Zimbabwe.

So, to the ordinary man on the street, scholars, politicians and even journalists in Kenya, Pres. Mugabe is right and Western powers are applying double standards to protect their cousins.

The rallying cry for the independence fathers in both countries was land, which they felt was wrongly wrenched from Africans.

Like in Zimbabwe, the White Kenyan settler community owns the choice agricultural land leaving the majority Black population on less productive areas.

Dennis Akumu, a former Pan-African Trade Unionist and ex-MP, is a key member of the Pan-African Reparations Movement (PARM), a group that has been vocal in support of Pres. Mugabe’s cause.

"People the World over are talking of equity, transparency and democracy. But these three virtues cannot exist in a country where the majority have been marginalized and their leaders ostracized (for pointing out the injustice)," he says.

John Kamau, editor of the Nairobi-based Rights Features Service, an NGO on human rights issues, agrees with Mr. Akumu.

According to Mr. Kamau, "there is no way any sane government in the world would allow 98 percent of its population to live in near penury while less than two percent own parcels of land they do not even need."

He argues that at the Lancaster House Conference, it was made clear that the White farmers had up to 1990 to either develop their land or give it up to the Zimbabwean government.

The same document gave the government the right to nationalize all land not developed or nationalized, he said.

Mr. Kamau dismisses the argument that the EU sanctions were imposed because of Pres. Mugabe’s "dictatorial" rule, saying the West has never cared about who is elected president in Africa so long as he played by their rules.

"Haven’t we had Idi Amin Dada (Uganda), Marcius Nguema (Equatorial Guinea), Mobutu Sese Seko (ex-Zaire) and Siad Barre (Somalia)? An elementary student of history would tell you that these (people) were maintained by Western support," he added.

Veteran journalist Phillip Ochieng, in a Sunday Nation article titled, "Fleet Street’s Jungle Justice in Zimbabwe," accuses the Western press of conspiracy against Pres. Mugabe.

Rejecting the forceful taking over of farms by Black Zimbabweans, Mr. Ochieng, however, feels the reporting is biased.

"But from what moral (ground) can you preach law and fair elections to them (Zimbabweans)? Fair elections? Why haven’t you applied sanctions on George W. Bush for rigging himself to the most powerful office in the free world?" he asked.

Whether Pres. Mugabe succeeds in his mission or not, he appears to be enjoying large support from Kenyans, who may not influence developments in his troubled country.

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