A recent headline story, the #occupyplayground saga, where an unknown/unnamed/unidentified /mysterious land grabber drew the wrath of Langata Road Primary school children activists has drawn attention to the impunity of land grabbing cartels. The tragic episode that saw the young activists tear gassed, was a clear indicator that the government needs to seek persuasive ways, if they ever hope to reduce the incidents of police protecting land grabbers in Kenya and turning against children. While I have little hope that we can achieve total behaviour change amongst seasoned land grabbers, I sincerely believe we can reach recent addicts before their addictions set in.
I am specifically talking about 1st term MCAs and MPs who are afflicted with growing urges for illegal land titles.
Land grabbing is a fairly common addiction among power brokers and politicians in Kenya. Satirical columnists classify it as a compulsive stealing disorder where a sufferer is unable to resist the urge to grab large parcels of land and erect walls around them. Some people grab to hoard, many others who don’t care for farming, love the notoriety that comes with the title of land baron, while others simply get used to getting away with what they steal and stop caring about the consequences.
Most land grabbers suffer from peer pressure and secretly believe that acquiring large tracts improves their chances with women. When the pieces of land that they acquired fraudulently attract the attention of the press and irate school children, they are left feeling humiliated and guilty but only momentarily. Deep down, the average land grabber does not view their act of wrongful acquisition as theft but rather as opportunism and business smarts. It is akin to the difference between a drug dealer and a business man. While all drug dealers in Kenya claim they are business men, we must remember that not all business men are drug dealers.
Most land grabbers would never publicly admit that they have a problem which only makes the path to recovery more challenging. Land grabbers are like sorcerers. They never admit their mistakes and prefer to wallow in denial. It is a lot easier to get a confession out a devil worshiper. While it would have been easy to name and shame, the effects of humiliation do little to curtail the urges of a land grabber.
You might know someone who is seeking help for their addiction. It is important to remind the grabber that recovery is possible. The bad news is that there is no magic bullet. However, acceptance is the first step and in rare cases, it is possible to appeal to the common humanity we share with land grabbers. As concerned citizens, we have to accept some people cannot help themselves. Therefore, we need to create non-judgmental spaces, to help land grabbers accept that they are the kind of guys who look at an empty playground and start fantasying about build a basement parking lot and that is perfectly okay.
It is important to know how land grabbing affects one’s brain before we can address the underlying issues. The fear of poverty, peer pressure, financial security and the ego boost that comes from owning 100 plus acres of prime land.
Watch out for the triggers. Envy is a common one, which is why it is important to avoid places that induce it, such as private members golf clubs, the Lands office and Parliament building.
Land grabbing destroys communities and endangers children. Done over long periods of time, it can lead to election violence. If you notice that you cannot stop looking at land without salivating, seek professional help. You are not alone.