Tuesday, August 17, 2004

An Unpleasant Ruling in Kenya

The BBC's reporting that the Kenyan government has rejected Maasai attempts to reclaim land seized from them 100 years ago.

The Kenyan government has rejected demands by ethnic Maasai protesters for the return of land leased to British settlers 100 years ago.
Lands Minister Amos Kimunya said the government did not recognise the colonial-era treaties.
The original lease expired this weekend on one million hectares of land, traditionally used by the Maasai and then occupied by white farmers.
On Friday, more than 100 Maasai tribesman demonstrated in Nairobi.
Dressed in traditional regalia, the Maasai handed a petition to the Kenyan lands and justice ministries and demanded compensation from the UK.
The one million hectare area is now subdivided among some white farmers, who own ranches, and black Kenyans, who practice small-scale farming.
The Maasai want the white farmers to be evicted and compensation from the British for the land occupied by the black farmers.
From an economic viewpoint, the Kenyan government's ruling makes a great deal of sense, as the land is almost certainly currently being put to more productive use than it would be if it were returned to the Maasai. Nevertheless, a treaty is a treaty, whether signed yesterday or a 100 years ago, and I am a staunch believer in the maintenance of the rule of law; as such, I cannot avoid the conclusion that the Maasai are in the right here, and that the Kenyan government is acting unjustly.

That last bit in the quoted section of the article about white farmers being evicted is a load of rubbish as far as I'm concerned, and unworthy of any further consideration, as is the notion that the British ought to compensate Maasai farmers for their loss after a century-long interval. That said, however, I see nothing wrong in all the current tenants, irrespective of color, negotiating new leases at market-determined rates with whichever body holds title to the land on behalf of the Maasai. That way the land would continue to be put to the most economically productive use while the Maasai would obtain the compensation they desire.