Community land makes up about two thirds of Kenya’s total land mass. Protecting and safeguarding community land upon which (pastoralist) communities derive their livelihoods is key in ensuring their socio-economic development.
This is especially so as we are in a period in our nation’s journey of economic growth characterised by land-intensive development projects being implemented by government and the private sector alike. It is crucial to ensure those ceding ground to pave way for the developments fully understand the tenets that guide management of their land, and are not deprived as a result of their lack of knowledge.
In 2016, the law to guide the use and management of community land in Kenya, the Community Land Act, came into effect. Regulations to operationalise this Act are being developed and should be complete within the next three months.
Non-state actors are doing their part to empower communities by sensitizing them on the provisions of the Community Land Act as well as principles of sustainable land administration and management, and internationally accepted tenure security standards such as the Voluntary Guidelines on the Governance of Tenure (VGGT).
As county lands departments and NGOs engage various groups on community land matters, it is important to regularly improve the strategy and approach being taken.
One aspect that should be given more consideration is the role of local administration officers in community land management. In most counties, land officers are stationed at county headquarters with very minimal sub-county level presence if any.
This reality has partly contributed to communities’ limited knowledge on land laws, institutions and procedures. Various county lands departments are seeking to recruit more land officers at sub-county level to improve the situation.
However the vastness of some sub-counties may require ward level presence of land administration officers.
In the case of arid and semi-arid (Asal) areas where county governments prioritize responding to challenges directly affecting communities’ well-being such as water scarcity and disaster management, it may be a while before this institutional structure is well in place.
As a result administration officers (i.e. ward administrators and chiefs) become ‘land administrators’ in practice, owing to their role in co-ordinating community level institutions such as land committees and environment committees.
These officers are a recognised authority at the community level and are often part of land governance institutions established by communities.
For example, in conducting community sensitisation, the support of the area chiefs and ward administrators is essential in having a successful meeting. In some instances when dealing with group ranches, the area chiefs play an ex-officio role among the group ranch representatives.
From experience, communities also involve administration officers on matters such as enforcement of community rules, reporting of incidences, and dispute resolution.
Building capacity of all technical officers that interact directly with communities on matters of equitable and sustainable land governance is of importance. Seeing as they interact with communities on a regular basis, chiefs and ward administrators can be a key entry point in promoting gender equality and other principles of sustainable land and natural resource management.
County administration departments can make the gender issue and equitable and sustainable land management an aspect of their periodic staff training to ensure action at the community level.
Additionally, NGOs and development partners working with communities should consider having trainings that specifically target community-level administration officers.
Involving county administration departments’ top leadership (CECs, COs and Directors) will also help in improving gender representation at community level when dealing with land by having these governance principles taken up as part of official county policy.
Washe Kazungu is a land specialist.