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Edwin Chemoiywo:

Edwin is a Sabaot community activist who holds a master’s degree in Development studies from Moi University. He is a writer, youth development expert, organizational development specialist having worked with several international organizations such as Winrock international, Digital opportunity Trust, United Nations, among others. He is currently the Executive Director for Digital Partners Foundation in Kenya and a consultant with numerous Non-governmental organizations in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan besides lecturing in some Kenyan universities. Chemoiywo has received several awards and honors right from University; including Winrock International “Man of the year” award for mobilizing, sensitizing, and empowering over 100, 000 youth organizations in Kenya on civic awareness, governance and democracy. While in Egerton University (Njoro) he was honored with an outstanding student leadership award becoming the first Sabaot student to win such a ward. He is also an active participant in African arguments, where he writes and comments about issues affecting Africa. His interests is in developmental politics. Prior to joining the development activism, he taught in numerous secondary schools as a science teacher; he taught in schools such as Kapsabet girls, Cheptais High school, Alliance girls, Kimabole Secondary school among others. He is currently doing a research in Mount Elgon about the role of boy child in Sabaot community. Born at Cheriwet village in Cheptais District-Kenya, Chemoiywo has lived in Kenya, and briefly in South Sudan, Uganda and Rwanda. Currently he lives in Nairobi with his family and lectures at several colleges during his free time. He is passionate about Sabaots unity and champions for democracy and right governance.

You can visit him at Digital Partners Foundation office which is located at Ronald Ngala Street Behind Post Office Gatkims Building 5th Floor.

Edwind can also be reached at Mobile Telephone # + 254 721 772 776

Micro ethnicity in Mt Elgon: Are we “Biikaap Kony” or “Biikaap Sabaot”?

Posted 28th February 2015.
When Mt Elgon district (69% forest and 31% human settlement) was created in 1993 following President Moi’s obsession for Majimbo and Bukusu political domination, it was considered as an ethnic reserve for the sabaots. Since 1932 when the colonial government moved Sabaots from Trans Nzoia to Mt. Elgon to create space for the white highlands, Mt Elgon has blown-up comprising of the Bok, Sabiny, Kony, Bong'omek and Mosop. Bok/Soy insists that the name sabaot is all-encompassing while “Kony” and “Mosop” prefers “Biikaab Kony”. Looking at the antagonism between “Bikaap soy” and “Bikaap Mosop”, their preferred names for Mt Elgon is biased. They are inspired by the desire to have their names dominate and overshadow the others. This is absolute capitalism. While the terms Mosop (highland) and Soy (lowland) could be rational they are very simplistic as they are purely geographical. Lowland and Highland. Period. Methinks that the word “Kaapkuugo” which is agreeable be ratified and gazetted. One, it connects us to all other Kalenjins in rift valley as the name is well known. Two, it not only sounds inclusive but gives us a competitive advantage over all other Kalenjins. “Kaapkuugo” Kwababu is a respectable name. Our Deputy President is in love with this name. Above all, it will set the right precedence for future generations and bridge supremacy divide. The premise of my argument is stimulated by observed breakdown of Elgon traditional institutions of harmony as spiritual leaders have played active roles in conflict backing as witnessed in SLDF era. They continue to recede into the background and only resurface during political campaigns. The “Mt Elgon Council of Elders” seems toothless and are not giving direction to the young cohort. For example, Mt Elgon has very sensitive names. Sometimes and those times are many people do not like the names they are titled. For instance, the terms “Elgon massai” and “Ndorobo” are considered abusive. At least for those who are aware, the “Owners” are unhappy. The “Somek” who are ethnic cousins of “Sengwer” don’t like being called – Somek. Unfortunately none has shared with the young generation the acceptable tags. I guess that this should be part of the role of “Mt Elgon Council of Elders” With an aggregate population of over 270,000, Mt Elgon must redefine itself. Lest we lose that which truly gives as our identity. END ©Edwin Chemoiywo


Broken promises and Land reforms in Chebyuk-Mt. Elgon, is it community land or settlement scheme?
Posted February 15th 2015.

In 1990, at Chebyuk in a thatched hut of my grandpa, I met Cheroben, my childhood friend. Sitting on a “kitimootoot” around a cooking pot with my granny and my uncles, he warbled a song that got me so absorbed.  Suggestive of fairytales. He sung: Kiiyeeteeleekoolool Kiiyeetee baabaab mbaareet! (Lekoolol denied my father land). He sang and sang and sang till tears rolled down his cheeks. As I tried to join in the song, I felt my throat chocking dry…without getting the gist, I sensed tears wetting my empty chest. Chebyuk was cold…wind wafting across the valley, drifting the smoke up the sky and the loose wooded door bang repeated as dogs barked outside. There were no blankets, only animal fur covering our tiny bodies. I developed a bitter attitude about Lekoolool. Bitter that he denied Cherobens father the land. I grew so acrimonious that I kept speculating why lekooolol had done that to his dad. I swore that when I grow up, I will right the wrongs and that Lekoolol would pay for his conducts both in word and deeds. Having lived in Chebyuk for a short stint, I had little time to know more about Lekoolol. A man who had caused tears to my extended family for years. I was so unhappy. At teenage, I thought it was just a mere song to keep time moving. “Kuukoo” who is Lekoolol? I asked! You will not understand my grandson, he replied. And so I kept calm but with my ears on ground.

As I grew up and probed more, my curiosity intensified. Nonetheless, I never got suffice answer. Because of Whiteman education I got out of my cherished home so that I could know how to read and write.

Today several years after the song, I have met men and women with passion for Mt Elgon and have shared with me their stories. I have also extensively read about the woes of my native land. And to men and women of my generation I would love to share with you the real problems of our weeping valley, and my suggestion to those who have been entrusted with our resources to govern and lead. For the purposes of analysis, I will narrow my discussions to: 1. president Mois inconsequential unwritten land promises to sabaots’, 2. elusive privatization of land in Chebyuk by “guest squatters” and 3. The way forward.

 I have learned that Lekoolol was a provincial commissioner in Western Kenya. A man who together with the then district commissioner, Mr Changole had gone down in Chebyuk history as the main architects of land reforms in 1989. But as promised let me start by discussing president Moi.

Daniel Moss, the firs “Bok” MP for Mt Elgon in 1970 agreed with Mzee Moi to create Chebyuk. By then it was a forest. Hard working sabaots’and mosops, cleared the forest and called it home. Little did Moss knew that Moi never ratified the agreement. With no title deeds to legitimize new found sabaot niche, but with adequate food “sabots” mushroomed”. Thanks to the cold weather that always send them to bed. Despite corruption espoused by tribal chiefs in land allocations, sabots lived in Chebyuk illegally.  This led to back and forth allocation of land without legitimacy (No title deeds). In 2002, when Kibaki came to power, Sabaots had to leave the “forest” as political entertainment by Mzee Moi had come to an end. “Sabaots were referred to illegal immigrants’ squatters by Kibakis regime. 

Two, privatization of land by the guest squatters. Chebyuk residents may not agree who owns chebyuk reason; ballooning immigrants, numerous allocations, cancellations and relocations of land coupled with corruption entrenched in nepotism many a times facilitated by Mzee Moi as a response to petitions from Ndorobos. In the late 1970s there was massive migration to Chebyuk by mosoop from Chepkitaale, benet and sebei from Uganda, Bukusus, Tesos, gusii, kikuyu, and soy from Cheptais, kapkateny, kapsokwony, kaptama and tranzoi. This created a buzz…Even with degazation of Chelebei forest in 1974, land encroachment was allowed by Moi without citizens being given title deeds. As generations passed, and grand children born, few land had been denationalized to date. This was worsened when forest clearers looking for job were given pieces of land as pay, as they too settled permanently complicating an already volatile situation. It was the beginning of watershed.

Moving forward, Kenyan government has tried its best to resolve the crises despite using coercive tactics sometimes to remove folks from the woodland who have no other place to call home. My suggestions therefore are;

  1. The Kenyan government should first conduct civic education in Chebyuk and let public understand why some of their homes are referred to as forest. Sharing Moi’s half-baked promises and political entertainment will somehow enable citizens open up their eyes and minds while throwing in their towels.
  2. Because part of Sabaot woes reads, Mzee Moi, the government should look for land elsewhere and relocate those who live like squatters without depopulating “Kaapkuugo” for political reasons.
  3. Chepkitale people or the people of Mosop who exchanged baskets and grains as they intermarried with the Soy be compensated for being taken for granted. When in 1968 National park was created in Tranzoia and Ogiek were displaced to Chebyuk, they saw the new home as a “give-and-take” from Chepkitale.
  4. The Kenyan government should do what Museveni in Uganda did on Mt Elgon side of Uganda; upgrade all forest reserve covering high reaches of the mountain as National parks.  And strictly get out citizens from this places.
  5. Have an overhaul of the forest officers who have lived in the forest from Moi’s regime. These are corrupt individuals immune to impunity who allowed innocent citizens to build homes in the gazette areas in exchange of money.
  6. The then political entrepreneurs Mr. Kisiero and chief Bomji should shed more light on the land struggles in Chebyuk. They were the architects behind corruption, nepotism in land reforms, a brunt bore by current innocent generations. These individuals should be brought to book.
  7. The Mosop-Sabaot community and other guests should appreciate that their coming to Chebyuk was a friendly welcome. While the international reference to aboriginal land rights gives them international backing and credibility to claim land, they should manage their ambition. Practice family planning and cut down the family size. Remove the feeling of more indigenous than Sabaots. You are guests!
  8. Mt Elgon aspirants contesting for Member of Parliament should share their plans on land reforms in Mt Elgon. Their strategic plans on settling landless individuals ones and for all. 

To conclude I contend, that we live in a heavily mercantalized society, our politicians are proponents of capitalism and Karl Marx is dead. No one speaks for the poor. Beyond their gates they see anarchy. They will tell you what you want to hear but not what you need to hear. The protracted and deep-rooted economic crisis that has affected nearly every one of us has had a profoundly negative impact on the wellbeing of the entire population in the sabot community. From Education, environment, economics to our image—we have grieved for long. In this 2015 we must deeply resolve that never again shall we fight for land!

Sabaot community, let us arise shape attitudes, behaviors and urbanize our thinking. Through social solidarity we can redefine our destiny. We have nothing to lose but our chains!---END. ©Edwin Chemoiywo