A campaign by Nandi County leaders for the return of land they claim was lost to Kisumu in the colonial era is causing tension on the border amid fears of an outbreak of fighting.
Led by Governor Stephen Sang, the leaders have set their sights on large swathes of land in the two constituencies of Muhoroni and Kisumu East they claim was taken during the construction of the Uganda Railway by the British. The British evicted the Nandi from the areas because of their militant opposition to the railway project, they claim.
But observers are reading politics in the claim by Nandi leaders and say while there is no realistic chance of them achieving their objectives, the potential for violence and loss of lives and property was huge.
Mr Sang chaired a meeting of Nandi leaders three months ago ahead of a visit to the county by the National Land Commission. The meeting, at Nandi Bears Club, came up with a declaration to seek the return of the contested areas.
These were identified as Miwani, Kibos, Kibigori, Kopere, Chemelil, Fort Tenan and Muhoroni towns.
The contested areas cover almost the entire constituencies of Muhoroni and Kisumu East.
But it is unclear how the objectives of the Nandi leaders can be realised. While NLC has a mandate on land issues, it cannot change administrative boundaries.
The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, has a mandate to change only political boundaries within the counties every 10 years. A review is due before the 2022 elections and this could also explain the agitation by Nandi County.
The agitation has caused tension along the border of the two counties, slowing down investment in agriculture and microfinance sectors. The two counties stand to lose heavily in terms of revenue generation because of fears of insecurity unless the matter is quickly resolved.
In the event of the agitation succeeding, Kisumu county would lose sugar companies, large tracts of fertile land and thousands of its residents.
Many fear violence is inevitable if the agitation is stepped up.
Kisumu MCAs said the agitation could also threaten the Lake Region Economic Bloc in which the two counties are members. The bloc was formed recently to push for the economic interests of 14 counties in western Kenya.
At the bloc’s second summit meeting in Busia last week, Governor Sang’ and his Kisumu counterpart Anyang Nyong’o shook hands in a bid to quell disquiet.
On Wednesday, the Kisumu County Assembly passed a motion seeking to compel IEBC and the National Land Commission to tour Kisumu and clear the air on the boundaries between the two counties.
The motion moved by Nominated MCA Caren Muga wants the state agencies to state clearly where the boundaries are to quell the rising tension on the border.
Mrs Muga said the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga was meant to foster peace but Governor Sang’s land campaign will derail the objective.
But some analysts are linking the border agitation to the Uhuru-Raila handshake.
Prof Obora Okoth, a political analyst, says Mr Sang is a mouth piece of Deputy President William Ruto who has been widely seen as a big loser in the truce between Uhuru and Raila.
“Sang is simply trying to hit at Raila because the handshake has really destabilised Mr Ruto’s ambition to become president. He is hoping violence will happen to paint Raila in bad light,” he said.
But he maintains that the agitation is futile and will not be accepted by the communities on the ground.
“Nobody will agree to change boundaries. This push will die a natural death because it is for selfish interest,” he said.
Kisumu MCAs Joachim Oketch (Kondele) and Caleb Omoro (nominated) said there will be no negotiations on the border issue.
“We will not allow ourselves to be dragged in boardrooms to renegotiate borders. The boundaries are very clear,” said Mr Oketch.
Muhoroni MP Onyango K’Oyoo and his Kisumu East counterpart Shakeel Shabbir warned that the move may open a Pandora’s Box on various boundary rows across the country.
NANDI BEARS MEETING
But in Nandi, the leaders seem determined to push on with their agitation which started at the Nandi Bears meeting on March 15. The meeting ended in the so called 2018 Nandi County Declaration in which the community vowed to resist moves to annex its land.
The meeting mandated Governor Sang to use all legal means to protect land belonging to the community.
The Governor was told to invite the National land Commission and IEBC to investigate historical land injustices which the community suffered during the construction of Uganda Railway.