Kenya passed the Community Land Act in August 2016, a law intended to guide how land that is communally owned will be managed and administered.
The law gives the community the power to decide what happens on their land once it is registered.
This was an improvement from the past where for the case of group ranches, individuals who made up the group representatives had the power to transfer or convert land without getting authorisation from the whole community.
In the new setup, a Community Land Management Committee will have to get approval from at least two thirds of all adult members of a community on all major decisions that will affect their land.
County governments are the custodians of all unregistered community land. If an investor were to identify a section of community land as the site to carry out a project, they would have to engage the county government for approval.
This is in addition to engaging the community occupying the land before accessing and using the land. The same applies to the national government in the event of compulsory acquisition for infrastructure developments such as railways, highways, electricity transmission lines, and other public projects.
As custodians of unregistered community land, it is important for county governments to ensure that communities are well coordinated in anticipation for registration of their land. This coordination of communities can include sensitization on the provisions of the law, as well as working with communities to determine what lands they claim presently.
Furthermore, the Act requires counties to develop an inventory of all community land within each devolved unit. This inventory has to capture the name of the community, the locality, description of the boundary, the use of land, and any other necessary information.
To ensure that the registration process encounters as few challenges as possible, it will help if the counties have a record of all community land in good time. This will serve as the first point of reference for the national government when the lands ministry embarks on registration.
Developing an inventory of community land will be a continuous effort that can gain more legitimacy by ensuring inclusivity and meaningful participation. Making use of existing community institutions such as environment and grazing committees, and women and youth groups will also improve the process. If communities can own the process from the start it could present the opportunity to address some of the underlying issues on land use and planning.
The Community Land Act places the responsibility on the Land Cabinet Secretary (CS) to, in consultation with county governments, ensure that the process of documenting, mapping and developing of the inventory of community land is transparent, cost effective and participatory.
One way to do this would be for the CS to issue a set of guidelines that counties can use in documenting community land within their jurisdiction.
Washe Kazungu land and natural resource management specialist.