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Land Occupation Echoes in Kenya

April 14, 2000

NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) _ With Zimbabwe embroiled in a fight over white-owned farms, a Kenyan lawmaker has warned ``foreigners″ to vacate their farmland in 90 days or risk takeovers by landless Kenyans.

Stephen Ndicho of Kenya’s Social Democratic Party has suggested the Mau Mau rebellion that led to Kenya’s independence from Britain in 1963 was unfinished.

``Our fathers fought the white man in the 1950s so that they could take over their land, but foreigners today continue to occupy large farms while our people remain landless,″ Ndicho said in an April 9 statement.

It was unclear whether his reference to foreigners included white Kenyans. The warning comes as thousands of armed men have occupied 900 white-owned farms in Zimbabwe.

The Kenyan government has not commented on Ndicho’s statement, but Benson Riungu, a columnist for the East African Standard newspaper that has close ties to President Daniel arap Moi, said the legislator was promoting anarchy.

``If we were to allow this kind of invasion, what would prevent other people from laying claims to privately-owned land, just because one owns a bigger tract of land than a group of people?″ Riungu asked.

Under Kenyan law, foreign companies or foreigners in partnership with Kenyans can own farm land; individual foreigners cannot.

A Kenyan official on a special government commission investigating land issues said a takeover of company-owned land would be unwise. The official, who spoke on condition he not be identified by name, said the companies are good employers and noted that they bring needed foreign exchange into Kenya.

Robert Shaw, a Nairobi businessman and a white Kenyan, said a land grab would discourage investment. ``The worst signal you can give any investor is to show that the rule of law cannot be upheld,″ he said.

The issue of land transfers was negotiated, at least in part, during talks in Britain leading to Kenyan independence. This did not happen when President Robert Mugabe and his victorious rebel movement negotiated independence for Zimbabwe.

Under British colonial administration, about 2 million acres of Kenyan farmland was set aside for white settlers, mostly Britons.

Three years before independence in 1963, British rulers and Kenyan nationalists decided to work out an orderly shift of land to deter any invasion of white-owned farms.

With funding from Britain, West Germany, the World Bank, the Commonwealth Development Corporation and the Kenyan government, 1.9 million acres of white-owned farms were bought and sold to black Kenyans from 1960-1975.

Land transfers remain one of Kenya’s most prickly problems. Government officials and other influential Kenyans routinely and illicitly gain title to public and private land.

Mike Harries, a Kenyan coffee-grower, sold 800 acres of prime agricultural land to a cooperative of 3,000 landless Kenyans in 1974.

Since then, 200 acres of the farm have been sold to developers and the rest divided into two-acre plots for wealthy Kenyans planning to build homes.

``To me it is a very sad story of a productive and profitable farm which ended up doing nothing good to anybody,″ Harries said.

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