I am very happy and excited by ongoing efforts to issue title deeds and leases to Kenyans.
Kihiu Mwiri in Murang’a, informal settlement dwellers in Nyeri, Nyandarua and Nairobi have benefited. Nyakinyua in Nakuru, urban dwellers in Tharaka-Nithi, Waitiki farm in Mombasa and now Embakasi Ranching Company in Nairobi are others. The last two have been massive schemes, opening room for thousands of dwellers on small plots of land. In all these cases, the beneficiaries had been waiting for many years.
In some of the schemes, some people died waiting, or trying to follow up titles. Such tragic and frustrating experiences made many give up hope of ever obtaining official ownership documents.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s interventions have therefore been a most welcome game-changer in the circumstances. No one wants to get in the way once presidential authority is invoked for such processes. It whips into proactive and consistent action the Land ministry, local administration, directors of companies and every other authority needed to expedite preparation of titles.
Owners of plots in all the schemes that have enjoyed presidential intervention can now pride themselves of enhanced tenure security.
Guidelines by the Food and Agriculture Organisation observe that inadequate and insecure tenure rights increase vulnerability, hunger and poverty. They can lead to conflict and environmental degradation when competing users fight for control of these resources. Indeed, competing interests in some of the above schemes directly contributed to conflicts, insecurity and even loss of lives. For these reasons, Kenya should continue to escalate the processing and issuance of ownership documents to many others who remain waiting. Kenya’s tally of titles currently stands at just more than 11.6 million, with about five million issued since 2013, and 5.6 million issued since independence.
Going by regional and continental comparatives, these are big and encouraging figures. But let’s aim to push the figure to 15 million within the next five years.
There’s a worrying side to these settlement efforts though. In some, we’ve given people titles hence made it possible for them to develop their plots in confidence, but left them without basic infrastructure such as all-weather roads, power and water.
While residents can tap solar or generators for power and even sink boreholes for water, a lack of good roads limits. During wet seasons, there have been incidents of landowners who have had to wear gumboots and walk to nearby highways, even where they own cars. And when they are able to drive out, they have to keep monitoring the weather before driving back. Because they either cannot make it back at all and must stay away, or must arm themselves with umbrellas and gumboots to walk home from the highway. They also have to contend with finding safe spaces to leave behind their cars. It’s donkey life. It’s most dehumanising in the 21st century.
Yet, in a number of cases, this happens at the peripheries of major urban centres, not far from central business districts. It’s something that should shame and provoke into action managers of our land and county administration systems.
Best lessons from our past ensured that infrastructure provision preceded such settlements, and subdivision approvals would never be accorded without this. Local authorities of the day enforced this requirement. I am sure it is still possible to have innovative arrangements through today’s land officers, City and County managers to ensure that this is done. Just like in the past, infrastructure can be provided through indexing basic land revenue to individual land parcels. This would buttress the president’s titling efforts, and ensure that those settled have befitting livelihoods thereafter. And to redress the situation for existing settlements which continue to suffer the infrastructure gap, County authorities could liaise with plot owners to agree on how best to provide what is required, at some cost.
Ibrahim Mwathane is the chairman of Land Development and Governance Institute.