Some time late last year I met an intense young man called Elijah Mburu. Elijah comes from Kiambu county and he and some other colleagues of his ‘rika’ (age group) had just launched a lobby group called the Kenya National Land Accord Movement (KNLAM).
They had come up with a petition to Uhuru Kenyatta and they were out to collect one million signatures to petition Uhuru to allocate land to squatters and IDPs, especially in Kiambu, Taveta and parts of Rift Valley.
Today KNLAM has collected 215,000 signatures from Kiambu in addition to signatures from other parts of the country. On January 13, Elijah and his group accused Uhuru in the press of neglecting Kiambu residents.
They said he is a custodian of chunks of land formerly owned by these residents. They also mobilised Kiambu residents living in colonial villages to petition the Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Lands minister James Orengo to address their resettlement plans before they leave office.
Raila has taken up Elijah’s cause and is now challenging any Kenyan with large tracts of land to give up some of it for the sake of poor Kenyans who are squatters and IDPs. Uhuru is livid.
His family is reputed to own land the size of a province in a country where the average Kenyan can barely afford a plot of land to bury his dead.
On October 1, 2004 the Standard's lead story was on how the Kenyatta family is reputed to own 24,000 acres in Taveta, 50,000 acres in Taita, 29,000 acres in Kahawa Sukari, 10,000 acres in Gatundu, 5,000 acres in Thika, 9,000 acres in Kasarani, and 10,000 acres in Naivasha.
The newspaper also quoted another 52,000 acres in Nakuru, 20,000 acres in Bahati, 10,000 acres in Rumuruti, and 40,000 acres in Endebbes.
There was also mention of 100 acres in Karen and 1,000 acres in Dagorreti. The paper explained that this land was acquired during the 15-year reign of Uhuru's father, Jomo Kenyatta.
Ironically, Uhuru claims his greatest political support from Kiambu, a county with at least eight colonial-era villages — Kamuguga, Karecheni, Kiambaa, Kihara, Karura, Ichaweri and Kirathimo — that were established by the colonial government as concentration camps for Mau Mau sympathisers.
However, the thousands of young men who inhabit these villages are the ones behind the Kenya National Land Accord, and they insist Uhuru must restore their grandfathers' lands back to them before they can vote him into any position.
Elijah insists Uhuru must redeem himself of these historical injustices before running for President. Uhuru knows it is not illegal to own even the reputed 500,000 acres of land.
He also knows that unlike in western countries, it is not illegal to own every sea-front at the Coast and keep it away from poor members of the public who might want to enjoy God’s gift of beaches.
This is why he challenges Raila to produce evidence of illegality in their family property. Uhuru cannot be accused of land grabbing. As he himself admitted recently whatever happened under his parents is no concern of his.
However, the fact is that Uhuru is who he is today because of historical land injustices. These are the basis of the economic wealth he enjoys; and this economic wealth is the foundation of his political power today.
Uhuru must not assume that the millions of Kenyans who were disenfranchised in the process of his family acquiring their wealth have forgotten what happened.
As he challenges Raila to produce evidence showing that the land the Kenyattas own was acquired illegally, he needs to realise that millions of Kenyans do not need such evidence.
We know how the land was acquired, whatever the legal documents might say. He also must accept that Kenyans understand that there is no way powerful individuals with such a history, and who still own large tracts of un-utilised land, can be trusted to solve Kenya’s perennial land problems.
As Wetang'ula said, one really cannot expect a monkey to officiate over the eradication of forests! Raila has a point. Thousands of the Kenyan middle-class are struggling to pay bank loans so as to own a plot of land.
Millions of Kenyans continue to live as squatters across the country, purely because the land ownership system has been compromised.
Every internal conflict since independence, including the Baragoi masscare, Tana killings and the 2007-08 post-election violence, are related to land disputes.
How then can Kenyans who have suffered land alienation, whether they are from Central Kenya, Rift Valley, the Coast or Nairobi not agree with Raila when he says that a product of Kenya’s historical land injustices cannot be expected to solve such injustices?
In fact is it not morally repugnant for someone associated with such history to purport to have the solution to the inequalities in land ownership?
Ngunjiri Wambugu is the director of political affairs at the Raila Odinga presidential campaign secretariat.