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Columnists

Land tenure woes a threat to Kenya’s urban development

Achieving equitable land access is integral to the protection and enforcement of land rights.
Achieving equitable land access is integral to the protection and enforcement of land rights. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The recent land evictions witnessed following the move by the ministries of Land, and Water and Sanitation to reclaim 3,000 acres of land in Ruai that had been set aside for the expansion of the Dandora sewerage treatment plant has put land rights and management issues more visibly back on the country’s development agenda.

The same also comes in the backdrop of a notice by the Ministry of Environment and Forestry indicating that sections of Lang’ata Estate were hived off from the Ngong Forest.

The impending evictions have raised questions regarding the country’s future development trajectory as far as issues of land tenure insecurity go.

In both respects, it has opened up an important space for discussion on how to improve land administration systems and investment in land, so that the land rights and livelihoods are strengthened.

Achieving equitable land access is integral to the protection and enforcement of land rights. Without legally protected right to land, vulnerable low-income households are unable to defend land claims and positively engage in disputes over tenure.

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Failure to administer rights granted to secure land access has been a prime factor in rising land insecurity for the low and middle income earners. Greater tenure security is bound to strengthen income growth and asset status for the poor and ensure livelihoods resilience while strengthening the ability to access credit and compete.

One practical approach to addressing land tenure insecurity may be the use of blockchain-based land registry to address land grabbing and encroachment into public reserves.

Blockchain technology can reduce falsification of records. The use of geographic referencing would also make it easier for urban planners and other built environment professionals to implement sustainable practices such as land banking.

A point to note, however, is that land reform strategies must be approached from a multi-pronged perspective owing to the history of land administration in the country.

Kenya’s land tenure issue is deeply coloured by the nation’s past territorial race segregation and by later reforms that arguably resulted in little change for most of its citizens.

Further, since the 1980s and the rise of neoliberalism, Kenya has promoted large-scale, commercial and export-oriented farming. With capitalism now hegemonic, the terrain on which land reforms may take place has been dramatically altered.

At the same time, new issues loom large within debates on land reform. Gender equity and claims to resources by indigenous peoples are two. They also include the unequal and often unhealthy character of global agro-food systems, and environmental sustainability.

All said and done, the most viable solution in Kenya is upholding the Constitution. Further, the poor should play an active role in land debates, especially where they have lived for years.

While large-scale development is needed, it must not come at the expense of the urban poor and other vulnerable groups.

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