Beware pitfalls in programme mooted to settle the landless


The current government committed to purchase land and settle the landless once in office. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

The current government committed to purchase land and settle the landless once in office. This is a most noble undertaking, which is consistent with recommendations in some previous State reports.

For instance, the Njonjo Commission Report of 2002 addressed the absentee landlord issue at the Kenya Coast. One of the proposals it provided towards resolving it was that the government should, through the Settlement Fund Trustees (SFT), initiate a land purchase scheme in the ten-mile coastal strip for purposes of settling the landless indigenous people as happened during the “million-acre” scheme in the former White Highlands at independence.

The coastal strip remains restless to date, owing to rampant landlessness. The proposed initiative would therefore be a boon to the coast.

However, purchasing and allocating land to the landless is a process fraught with pitfalls that need careful navigation. One of the challenges that dogs the purchase of land by the SFT is deliberate overpricing. Brokers get into this matter to make a killing. By overstating the value of the land identified, they negotiate to secure the amount over and above the actual value.

If those who negotiate for government buy into the game, public funds may be disproportionately committed, and lost, shortchanging public interest. Once the land is successfully conveyed to government for allocation, other subtle threats loom.

It would not be too difficult to raise a genuine list of the targeted landless, particularly through the help of community elders. However, the compilation of this list may fall captive to suave gatekeepers. These gatekeepers easily open entry to those with executive and political power, or to those willing to respond to their informal bids. Such manipulated lists never quite stand public scrutiny once beneficiaries begin taking up occupation on the ground. Resistance by local residents ensues, which has led to the suspension of some schemes.

The beneficiaries may pose challenges too. Even without alternative settlements, some dispose of their land and revert to landlessness. In fact, some transact on the strength of their letters of allotment. In the compromised situation, those purchasing on the basis of such allotment letters get a premium bargain, while the sellers avoid the rigour of waiting, and the payment of government fees.

Framers of the Land Act foresaw this eventuality. In an attempt to prevent such transactions, it provides that any land acquired in a settlement scheme established under the Act, or any other law, shall not be transferable except through the process of succession.

In its spirit to ring-fence the beneficiaries against landlessness, this was a good proviso. It has, however, been argued that it diminishes the value of rights conveyed to the beneficiary. The provision is therefore a double-edged sword whose application may pose challenges. Moreover, those determined to sell off their land may circumvent it by resorting to informal sales.

Ibrahim Mwathane(Consultant on land governance: [email protected])

PAYE Tax Calculator

Note: The results are not exact but very close to the actual.