EDITORIAL: Digitisation of land records must succeed at all costs

The ongoing efforts to digitise land records is a huge step in the right direction. Even though it has been slow and beset by numerous hurdles along the way, digitisation of land records is the only way out of the current mess that the country finds itself in.

A visit to any lands offices in the country paints a familiar picture of disorder and lethargic staff who care less about customer service and more about their own stomachs.

By President Uhuru Kenyatta’s own admission, applicants for title deeds have in some instances spent decades chasing after officers at the land offices with no success.

There have been numerous cases of missing files, double-allocation and fraudulent transfer of title deeds without the faintest knowledge of the genuine land owners.

In the initial efforts to digitise the records, Land secretary Charity Ngilu proclaimed that contracted workers had retrieved three million files at Ardhi House that were previously hidden by ministry employees.


Mrs Ngilu went on to promise that all land records would be digitised in a matter of weeks, but little subsequently came out of the bold statements made by the minister at the time. Instead, Ardhi House was back to its characteristic chaos in a matter of weeks.

Cases of alleged land grabbing are back in the headlines, while citizens continue to suffer at the hands of self-serving staff at the ministry who manipulate the system at every turn to squeeze bribes from ordinary Kenyans in need of their services.

Land officials quickly reverted to type even after Mrs Ngilu had camped at Ardhi House to monitor delivery of services, proving that one individual cannot change a system where corruption is deeply entrenched.

What is not in doubt, however, is the fact that the status quo is not sustainable, given the important position that land holds as a key factor of economic production.

For investors to build factories and set up other businesses that are needed to employ millions of our jobless youths, the sanctity of title deeds has to be assured.

As it is now, commercial banks apply a high premium when advancing loans where borrowers pledge title deeds as collateral, to cover themselves against potential losses.

If order was to be restored at land registries across the country, then the cost of loans would drop significantly, boosting economic activity in a big way.

The entrenched cartels at the land ministry will not give in easily to an orderly system, but the fact is that there is no alternative but to pursue them to the logical end.