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48 “Oh god, yeah, I do,” says Paul. We’re sitting outside a café in the town of Nanyuki, on wooden folding chairs with canvas backs. A woman walks quietly over the flagstones to set down a coffee before him, then past a tangle of magenta bougainvillea on her way back to the kitchen area. Paul’s relatives own a ranch here in the Rift Valley’s Laikipia County (known as Laikipia District until 2013), and run a small luxury lodge where tourists can gaze past white curtains at gazelles and cheetah on the plateau. When Paul gives guided tours, he can name every species of succulent plant, tell you about the gestation period of a wild dog, and recognize individual black rhinos by the shape of their horns. I have asked him about this land and whether he feels he “belongs in Kenya.” It’s the air I breathe, you know? I mean, since we were young . . . we would have these amazing camping safaris—we would go out for two weeks and never see another vehicle. We’d drag a carcass, like a tommy [Thomson’s Gazelle] carcass near the campfire—or near the camp—so we could sit back and watch the lions eat it. I mean, you tell people this, sometimes we tell our guests [at the lodge]. They think we must have been crazy. But we did it all. For Paul, his family’s intervention in the East African circle of life sealed a kind of intimacy with the place. But his claim to entitlement is also more specific; it has to be. A few dozen former settler families own roughly 1 million acres of commercial ranchland in Laikipia—as much as half the land, though nobody seems to agree on the math—and there 2 Loving the Land Loving the Land | 49 is a disgruntled population of several thousand Maa-speaking pastoralists , most self-identified as Maasai, in the region.1 To be sure, thousands of settlers across Kenya gave up their lands at Independence on a “willing buyer, willing seller” basis, and the national population of those from colonial families has dwindled to less than a tenth of what it was. Many large tracts of land in Laikipia are now owned by elite Africans, Asians, and expatriates from a smattering of other nations in Europe, the Americas, and the Middle East. Yet white Kenyans in the area— especially those descended from settler families—have played a disproportionate role in conservation, some fencing in their land as wildlife sanctuaries, where they host a few well-to-do tourists at a time and protect endangered species. They are also disproportionally symbolic. In August of 2004, Maasai activists in Laikipia drove large herds of cattle onto about a dozen of the ranches owned by whites from old Kenya families, demanding the return of ancestral grazing lands that had been taken by the British colonial government a century earlier. This striking gesture was part of a major bid for damages from the British and Kenyan governments to compensate for injuries and loss of lives, livestock, and land. Up on the ranches, Paul tells me, some of his friends were alarmed and indignant to see Maasai decked out for war, herding livestock onto their property. The situation did not last long, though. Anxious to preserve the tourism -based economy and Western aid, the Kenyan government sent in the paramilitary unit of the Kenyan Police Force to evict the Maasai. A Maasai elder, seventy-year-old Ntinai Ole Moiyare, was shot dead, several others wounded, and 120 more arrested. These events emerged from a major and painful theme across Kenya today: conflicts over land, which are so often played out in terms of “which ethnic group was here first.” Ethno-territorialism was terribly exacerbated by colonial policies and their aftermath; the British administration encouraged the idea that ethnic identities are essential divisions and fostered conflict and competition between these newly reified groups. Both Maasai and Kalenjin, for instance, were displaced from areas of the Rift Valley, and in the colonial era came to regard both whites and other ethnic groups in these regions—including many Kikuyu squatters—as foreign occupiers. Making things worse, when the Crown Lands were turned over to Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta in 1963, political patronage meant that Kikuyu were disproportionately favored, and pastoralist grievances went largely unaddressed. In Laikipia and other areas, Kenya is now a crucible of...


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