Kasigau History and Its Influence on Contemporary Life

Kasigau is a series of villages located on an elephant corridor that connects the Tsavo National parks of Kenya with the Mkomanzi Reserve in Tanzania. Land-use in this corridor is mainly made up of community ranches that are used by livestock herders, both local residents and migrant Somali herders. Livestock grazing supplements rain-fed agricultural production. Over the last few years, however, this area has experienced insufficient or delayed rainfall periods which have stressed crop and livestock production.

To preserve this celebrated wildlife corridor, various organisations, governmental and non-governmental, local and international, have developed projects offering alternative forms of livelihood that are less reliant on natural resources. Such projects included building guesthouses for tourism, bee-keeping projects, outdoor facilities, and activities for both corporate and private groups. Other projects have focused on giving the local community better access to education – building and refurbishing school buildings, building water harvesting and storage systems with related infrastructure, and working with local women’s and youth groups. Despite attracting interest from conservation and development agents, most conservation projects in Kasigau haven’t gone past the initial implementation stage, and if they have, projects teeter within the first few years and for some projects, dying off. Development-related projects, on the other hand, seem to fare much better.

Projects that deal with giving access to public goods are viewed more favourably compared to other types of projects. Kasigau is relatively isolated from major infrastructure like roads, and it wasn’t until the late 2000s that electricity came to this part of Taita. Network signal, too, is a recent addition. Due to its isolation, most primary schools within Kasigau were initially built to accommodate local residents. With the passage of time, the infrastructure, of primary schools became deplorable as population increased. With little surplus income among the residents, most of the capital was and continues to be dedicated towards providing uniforms and paying of fees for school going children. Also, due to the relative poor political capital the residents wielded in the greater coastal region, and coupled by their isolation, Kasigau lacked political patronage and it wasn’t until recently one of their own was in government. Such factors made residents compare themselves against their other Taita brothers and decry poor development in their region. Given this state, residents have a different attitude towards development projects. Projects that focus on schools: financial aid, school uniform, school infrastructure, and other social amenities tend to have more favourable perspectives and therefore lack the infightings that have led other conservation projects to fail.

From conversations I had with various conservation-implementing agencies, project staff perceive local political interference as the main reason for failure. Despite agreements with local leaders and communities, at some point during the life cycle of a given project, disagreements arise that escalate into battles of will and initial agreements about the project are rejected. In multiple instances, investors who required land to be sold or donated, had their land agreements trashed, and in one extreme case, the project organizer was literally chased by a mob of angry residents. This sudden turn of events, despite progress in negotiations, and following through all the recommended process in project implementation, has been the bane of the community, and intriguing research on the causes of such aggressive actions.

My research focused on understanding how a local history of colonial deportation in Kasigau continues to affect local perception of “outsiders.” The deportation event occurred during WWI, a direct consequence of German cross-border aggression from Tanganyika (present day Tanzania), to the British colony of Kenya. After being accused of aiding a German raid on a British military camp based in Kasigau, British troops forcefully removed Kasigau residents from their homeland. The community then spent 22 years in two different locations, with many community members dying from an alleged poisoning event by locals at Pumwani in Malindi, the site of their first relocation. After residing in Mwatate, the second location, the Wakasighau were eventually allowed to return home to Kasigau.

Pushing the piki around after it got stuck in sand

Pushing the piki around after it got stuck in sand

But some 89 years after resettling, the deportation narrative itself hasn’t remained static. From preliminary data, the differences occur in three categories; between generations; between villages and; within villages. Between generations, the first generation of those exiled have a more uniform version. The divergence becomes more pronounced as the narrative progresses down the second, third and fourth generations.  The lost details from the original narrative are then filled with what the narrator believes happened, based on contemporary events that have shaped/been shaping life in each respective village.

One of the ways that influence narrative evolution is what locals believe to be the cause of the deportation; ignorance and naivety. Most respondents believe had their forefathers been more inquisitive of the role of the British camp, understood the hostilities between the British and the Germans and, had been more inquisitive as to the aim of the Germans wanting to know the whereabouts of the British camp, they would never have gone to exile and suffered as they did, “losing 22 years’ worth of development opportunities”. This sense of vulnerability is one of the ways that have shaped their attitudes towards outsiders.

Working with the youth to map the route taken by their forefathers

Working with the youth to map the route taken by their forefathers

From this research, I aim to bring greater understanding as to why communities, like Kasigau, are seen as resistant to community projects. My interviews suggest that the resistance experienced in previous years is based on a widely held belief that any project requiring local commitment before receiving tangible results is reminiscent of the deportation of their forefathers. This is particularly so for projects that appear to place “their” natural resources, especially land, under joint or foreign/outsider management. One example of this is community leaders have refused to have their land adjudicated in order to get title deeds. The local leadership claims that the ranches that surround Kasigau belonged to their forefathers, but were lost while they were in exile. The leaders’ argument is based on the well-known fact that most of the registered ranch members of the surrounding ranches are in faraway parts of the district/County and in some cases, ranches are individually owned and hence said members/owners have “no claim” to land that was formerly under the Wakasighau before their deportation-Such claims are based on historical knowledge of settlements within the Tsavo dispersal areas which, originally, had been sparsely populated. The leaders will only allow land adjudication after Kasigau residents get their “original” land back. By understanding such claims by the Wakasighau, and investigating the fuel that drives these arguments, I aim to better understand how communities like Kasigau view themselves, how outsiders view them, and how such communities think they are perceived by outsiders.


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