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Columnists

Land reforms agenda can’t be ignored

Lands Ministry headquarters
Lands Ministry headquarters in Nairobi. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

A few weeks ago, a section of the political class had a sensitization meeting on the Building Bridges Initiative Task Force draft report. The recommendations coming out of that meeting touched on one area that the BBI report must reconsider.

This relates to land. It is surprising that a framework to deal with the underlying issues affecting the Kenyan society and resulting tensions and divisions can ignore the land question.

Land has been the one factor that has led to social, economic and political contestations and upheavals for decades in Kenya. It was the foundation of colonialism and the subsequent struggle to rid the country of colonial domination and control.

Post-independence, the land question has, as opposed to being resolved, continued to deepen.

The 2007 elections and the resultant efforts to address its negative effects identified the land question as one of the long-standing underlying issues.

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With the adoption of the 2010 Constitution and the 2009 National Land Policy, both of which gave detailed prescriptions on how to deal with the numerous land problems ailing the country, one would have hoped that great progress would have been made in the land sector.

If that had happened the BBI Task Force report would have been right in its silence on the issues since it would have become a non-issue in the country’s socio-economic and governance discourse. The reality is far from this position though.

What is the real position on the ground? Despite work that has been done in the land sector, including issuance of title deeds, attempts to resolve some land disputes, enactment of new legislation including the Community Land Act, the land question is still largely unresolved.

The coastal region has been one of the epicentres of land problems, with questions of absentee landlords, land dispossession amongst other ills. Their priority issues, from their feedback on the BBI report includes land. They are not alone.

A colleague of mine had similar sentiments. The first time he read the report, his greatest concern was not the structure of government and the proposals therein. His worry was the silence about land and sustainable development.

Knowing the place that land occupies in the country and how it is a trigger for several other conflicts in the country, any genuine efforts to address the country’s problems cannot ignore the land question. If that happens, it can only mean that there is no commitment to finding long-lasting solutions to what ails Kenya.

It is important that land reforms be reenergized. The BBI final report must give land prominent treatment, recognise its importance in the society and its inextricable link to our politics and economics.

The task force does not need to do too much work. All they should do is get the Ndungu Land Commission Report, the Akiwumi Report on Ethnic Clashes and the Njonjo Land Commission Report. By reading these reports and auditing the status of their implementation, they will clearly see what the issues in the sector still are and thus easily craft what needs to be done to fully resolve the land problem.

A few months ago, the leadership at the National Land Commission changed. The commission has a responsibility to publicly engage with the land question and help bring impetus back to land reforms.

They inherited a poisoned history. One where the commission was viewed more as part of the problem and not the solution. Changing this perception requires concerted and consistent action. The sentiments from people of the coastal region is a pointer to the feelings amongst Kenyans on the state of land reforms.

In dealing with these sentiments, it is important to realise that what Kenyans are looking for are not new laws and reports. Instead, they want to see real and lasting solutions to their problems.

Take community land for example. Ten years after the Constitution recognised community land as a distinct category of land deserving protection just like private and public land, all the country has to show in terms of progress is enactment of a Community Land Act in 2016.

If one goes to most regions that have community land, the process of demarcating these lands, the promise of greater protection in law, even the expectation of issuance of community titles is still just that a promise.

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