Land commission facing hurdles

It’s time we brought the on going National Land Commission appointments ‘circus’ to an end. No one should be surprised that the appointment of members of the key constitutional commission has become protracted.

Reforming the land sector in Kenya was never going to come easily given that the Executive and the political class have benefited from its uneven terrain for decades.

Remember that land reforms are about reshaping wealth and power relations. For that reason, land reform attracts influential and powerful opponents.

The land commission is the most feared face of land reforms in Kenya. That the allocation of public land, currently vested on the Executive, is one of its roles doesn’t endear it. What with the pending business of allocating prime public land at Lamu and the expected resort city in Isiolo?

That we also struck oil, making all affected ‘community’ and ‘private’ land revert to ‘public’ land hence under the mandate of this commission, did not help matters!

That the commission will also mind the business of repossessing previously irregularly allocated public land makes it a primary enemy for many in the Executive and political class. In fact, even after it’s gazetted, I guess the next strategy that we may witness will be ‘starving’ it of much needed operational cash.

Empirical evidence bears me out. This country never formulated a land policy for over a century. This in my view was not inadvertent. It just wasn’t in the interest of the ruling class. Land for them remained an effective political weapon to punish those ‘against’ and reward those ‘for’ the State.

Remember that it took close to two years for the Cabinet to approve the draft national land policy. It wasn’t until land sector stakeholders threatened to conduct a ‘mock public launch’ at Nakuru that the policy was endorsed.

Recall too that the constitution parliamentary committee struck off the national land commission in its Naivasha sitting.

It took quite a fight for it to be re-inserted. Indeed, some then had begun arguing that land needed not be a constitutional issue. The vote on the constitution itself almost got lost due to the misrepresentation of the provisions of the land chapter.

But the facts remain clear. Interviews to this commission were conducted and concluded within June last year.

Parliament endorsed the nominees within August, leaving the President to gazette the nine member commission within seven days. But alas, this was never to be. True, there were some three court petitions standing in the way.

One was voluntarily withdrawn on 18th September 2012. The other two were consolidated, heard and dismissed by Justice D. S. Majanja on 12th October 2012 and the Attorney General immediately communicated the fact. Even then, gazettement never came.

Much later, one of the petitioners appealed Justice Majanja’s ruling and sought exparte orders to restrain the President from gazetting the commission. But on her session on 6th December 2012, Court of Appeal Judge Martha Koome refused to grant such orders, giving the President leeway to appoint.

But the appointment hasn’t been done to date. Gichugu MP Martha Karua has now upped the game on the matter. She has used the floor of Parliament to seek an explanation to the delay from the line minister James Orengo. Either way, we need this matter concluded.