Six decades of landlessness: squalid life of the Kipsigis Talai in Kericho

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Kipchomber arap Koilegen in Sultan’s clothing with his powerful cabinet members from the whole of Kipsigis land, Sot, Bureti and Belgut, Mastamet, Kibaliach, arap Soiti, arap Nyarino, arap Tombo, Cheriro, Mugeni (Barngetuny arap Koske/ Mondi) & Kenduiywo his eldest son. The photo was taken in July 1906 in Mombasa, they had attended King’s Edward VII coronation day.

The struggles for independence in 1900s ignited by legendary leader Koitalel arap Samoei eventually set the country free in 1963. Six decades later, the Kipsigis Talai community that played a pivotal role in unlocking the manacles of colonialism, is reeling in abject poverty. 

Laibon settlement near Kericho town paints a grotesque image of a people left to gnash their teeth in peerless penury. The sprawling slum blemishes an otherwise green and clean town.

The Talai inhabited area is situated at the lower side of Kericho town extending from Kericho green stadium to the lower parts of Kericho Academy. This borders the highly guarded and gated estates occupied by the haves, a sharp contrast from that of the Talais. As you go down the area, you are welcomed by structures that are made of leaking polythene papers, grass-thatched huts and rusted corrugated iron sheets.

Efforts by the Talai to get resettled started in the 60s

After independence, the British left hurriedly before resettling the Talai people as earlier agreed upon. The Talai community through their secretary Mr. Elijah Kebenei wrote to the then Vice President, the late Daniel arap Moi but he referred the matter to Kipsigis County Council that in turn shelved the issue for decades. In 1965, those who were living in an area where Kericho Annex stands today were moved to pave way for the construction of prison. They were temporarily resettled at Kipkelion township. In 1992, the Talai pleaded with Moi to consider their plight.  Moi had toured Kericho and was addressing residents at Kericho green stadium. Moi gave an order to the Talai leaders to resettle Talai people on any available government land. They later learnt that the land was the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) farm at Sirikwa, Molo. Moi also ordered Talai be given plots in Kericho town where they had lived since their return from Gwassi but his directives were never implemented.

Once beaten, twice shy. Talai community had seen the trying, tiring and crying times while in Gwassi where they were deported to on Saturday, November 3rd 1934. Gwassi being a dry area, turned out to be unsuitable for their livestock. Tse-tse fly killed their cattle and brought their economy to its knees.

On 1st January 1995, the then Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner (PC) Mr. Ishmael Chelang’a announced that the government would at last settle the Talai in April 1995. They were resettled at Ndabi settlement scheme in Naivasha. They considered this another punishment. Many returned to Kericho citing the dry weather that made it hard to get fresh water for livestock and domestic use.

Visit to former President Daniel arap Moi in 2006

Joel Korir, a friend to the late Dr. Taaita Toweet, secured an appointment with retired president Daniel Moi at his Kabarak home. The main agenda was the resettlement puzzle. In plain words, the Talai representatives painted the dire condition back at Kericho. Tears rolled down the ageing eyes of president Moi. He apologized for not solving the issue while in power saying he directed some leaders to give them land but in turn the cruel and corrupt leaders took what was rightfully theirs. He then promised to talk to a friend after 2007 general election to come to their rescue.

Visit to retired President Mwai Kibaki 

Towards 2007 General election, Talai representatives managed to book an appointment with President Kibaki through Njenga Karume who was delighted to have a talk with the celebrated freedom fighters. On 23rd April 2007, Talai representatives visited President Kibaki at State House Nairobi. Kibaki heeded their cries and promised to resettle them immediately after general election. He instructed them to compile a list of about 6000 members which they did through their consultant Mr. Bill Rutto.

On 16th June 2011, parliament probably through Kibaki’s instructions passed that Talai people be given plots and others be considered for resettlement together with post-election violence internally displaced persons (IDPs) and Mau evictees.

The Talai were finally given plots along Ealand section towards the lower side of Kericho Academy. It rather appeared as a surprise to a community with little knowledge on the importance of owning a plot in such a developing town. What followed according to one of Talai members who asked not to be mentioned, is that they sold the pieces of land to rich investors at approximately one million shillings per plot.  The money was squandered in changaa dens and destitution crept back to their lives.

From the salient cases of historical injustices, Talai felt that they qualified to be considered for a position in the Kericho County Assembly reserved for the marginalized community as stated in the Constitution of Kenya 2010 Chapter 4 Article 56 (a). This has never materialized. 

The nomination would at least give them a voice in Kericho County affairs.  Owing to the high rate of illiteracy among the community, the Talais have remained behind in development matters. The Laibon area is synonymous with criminal activities, moral decay and illicit brews.  This is an area where you will find hoard of drinkers dressed in tattered clothes with no shoes from dawn to dusk. There are no toilets in this place hence one can easily step on fresh human wastes. Half-naked children play in dumpsites endangering their dear lives. Some children have turned street urchins and dots the streets of Kericho town. 

The community is famed for stalling the construction of railway in 1900s for eleven years. Although they currently live in discouraging and deranging conditions, the Talais were the Kalenjin seers and led the community in battles.  They staged a spirited fight against the British invasion of their land at the onset of the 20th century.  

In his book, The Kipsigis Talai, David Tuei tells a grisly story of his encounter with Mr. Morbey, a white manager at Tea Hotel in 1964. As usual, the young David and his friend waded into the hotel garbage dump and started rummaging through the food remains.

Little did they know that it was their day to be got by the unforgiving white man. The sight of the dirty boys in the precinct of the hotel infuriated Mr. Morbey who immediately locked them inside the bin. David and his friend had to endure the stench and heat for around six hours. At around 3:00pm the star of hope shone when a Talai man who was working at the hotel went there to throw the lunch leftovers. The man rescued them.

The Talai’s were not the only ones who received a great deal of demeaning insults and all sorts of racism epithets. There was a poster at the gate of the hotel written in bold and succinct letters “AFRICANS AND DOGS ARE NOT ALLOWED IN THE HOTEL COMPOUND”.

After independence, former Rift Valley Provincial Commissioner Mr. Nyachae was served with hot soap of insults by Charles Webb who had replaced Mr. Morbey as the hotel manager for trying to get his way to the hotel. This time round, Mr. Webb’s cruel hand had gotten into the wrong hole. Extremely annoyed, Mr. Nyachae drove at a breakneck speed to Kericho DC’s office where he must have rung President Jomo Kenyatta. What followed was very unfortunate for Mr. Webb and his flamboyant equals. They were given a 24-hour notice to leave the country.  

39 thoughts on “Six decades of landlessness: squalid life of the Kipsigis Talai in Kericho

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