I thought it was an inherited disease that only my family possessed, and so I never talked openly about it. This was until sometime last month at a function in Nyeri and someone who knew where I was born asked me a difficult and embarrassing question. “Where is your family getting all this money from to invest in such huge developments?”
Before you lose me, let me explain. I was born a Wambaa, a descendant of the legendary Waiyaki family. My good friend,retired administrator, Kikuyu culture expert and church elder, Amos Kiriro, likes to remind me that I am royalty… If you are driving on the Naivasha Road from Nairobi past Uthiru, look to your left from Kinoo all the way to Muthiga – that is where my roots are. All that land was, sorry, once was owned by the larger Waiyaki and Wambaa families.
It stretches from Naivasha road and cuts across ridges to touch the Dagoretti Road near the Church of Torch, Kikuyu Hospital and Alliance High schools. We were born to wealth, land wealth that is, and our grandfathers died believing none of their descendants would ever be landless. They must be turning in their graves today as they watch the shame their sons, grandsons and great grandsons have brought to the once proud family. Which brings me back to Nyeri.
Dying with shame, I admitted that most of the highly visible investments don’t belong to our family members but investors who have bought the land from our brothers, uncles and cousins. You cannot fail to notice the ultra modern high-rise residential buildings that dot the Naivasha road all the way from Uthiru to the Kikuyu town turn-off. No doubt a lot of money has been invested and I take my hat off to the owners. But how I wish they were my family members, majority of whom are dying slowly from consumption of cheap alcohol using their newfound millions. What a great shame!
The older generation, and especially the Kikuyu man, valued ancestral land. Indeed, ancestral land was never sold. Our parents hang onto their unproductive land because they believed it was a curse to sell it. Many even refused to sub-divide it and allocate individual pieces to their children for fear of it being sold. In deed, it took my mother a lot of convincing to sub-divide her land, and sadly she lived to see her grandchildren being disinherited by their fathers (her sons new generation of land inheritors, especially those who come from areas where land is so valuable like where I was born, have gone against their parents’ wishes and values and sold off ancestral land. In this modern day and age, there is nothing wrong with selling land if you do it to build your assets or improve your life, but unfortunately this is not the case with most of those selling land.
Majority of those in my family who have sold their land are poorer today than when their parents lived because they have not used the money wisely. Many have squandered it on women, alcohol and other worldly pleasures after rendering their own children landless. These great, great, grandchildren of the likes of chief Waiyaki will remain squatters or tenants for the rest of their lives despite a rich inheritance, unless they can work hard for themselves and buy a piece of land somewhere in Kenya. Many will never know where their roots were because some of their ancestors’ graves have been sold off with the land.
Is this not reason to weep? But I am comforted to know that this disease of rendering future generations landless is not only a Waiyaki family disease. The conversation at our table in Nyeri turned out to be about the sorry state of affairs in many parts of Central Kenya where irresponsibility, alcoholism and other vices have made people sell off ancestral land en masse.Most of the developments you see in Central Kenya, and especially in Kiambu, don’t belong to the original landowners or their inheritors but to newcomers.
I feel like a stranger in the once beautiful place where I grew up. Dwarfing high-rise residential apartments, kiosks and shops built on road reserves, surround my mother’s house. This once green and quiet place where my childhood dreams were nurtured is a concrete jungle roamed by multitudes of people, not family members but strangers.
The playgrounds where my cousins and I once played are no more. I hear that you dare not walk at night because of insecurity. But what do you expect when many of the male species in my family spend the millions they make from sale of land in the numerous drinking dens (again investments by outsiders). Many are like zombies – so drunk and disheveled that I weep when I remember who their parents were and how they sacrificed everything to give them an education and an inheritance, which they have now squandered and denied to their own children.
Talk of crime – this is the perfect recipe. The children of these alcoholics may never have a chance to go to school leave alone a place to put up a hut. They have no role models. And they will grow up bitter with the investors who bought their parents’ land at ‘their expense’. In years to come, they may confront these investors like my husband was once confronted by a man in Mombasa at a beach plot we had bought and owned for many years claiming: “Hii shamba ilikuwa ya nyanya yangu…” (This land belonged to my grandmother). My husband didn’t doubt this man’s claim but unfortunately his grandmother’s inheritors sold it off and so he treated him like a trespasser.