The clock is ticking. The future of customary and indigenous lands in Kenya now lies in the hands of county governments as trustees of all unregistered community land.
This follows the enactment of the Community Land Act, 2016 that offers a framework for recognition, registration and securing community lands in Kenya.
The repeal of both the Land (Group Representative) Act of 1968 and the Trusts of Land Act now requires that communities draft and adopt by-laws to govern their land, create or update membership registers to ensure inclusion of all groups in the community, harmonise boundaries and deal with disputes with neighbouring communities and elect a committee.
Community Land Management Committees will act as representatives or voice of the registered community through effective consultation.
The Act envisioned a systemic process that strengthens community governance systems, removing the decision making power from only a few and ensuring the community assembly has the utmost say in deciding on management of land.
Once communities meet the requirements of the Community Land Act, 2016 they can file a claim over their land, they can register the community land.
All lands not registered will then be held by the County Government in trust of the community.
This includes all group ranches and trust lands. The county g1overnment as trustee of community land will hold all monies payable as compensation for compulsory acquisition for unregistered community land.
Resources payable to communities in the wake of major infrastructure development projects like Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia-Transport (Lapsset) Corridor and standard gauge railway will be paid to the county governments unless communities register their lands under the Community Land Act.
Should we trust the county government?
It is said that the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour yet hope comes with newness.
The AWC in an article dubbed on economic recovery and poverty reduction documents the wide abuse by both the defunct municipal councils and national government of trust lands.
Instead of acting as the custodians of the land, the defunct municipal councils facilitated the alienation of such land in favour of individuals and institutions in total disregard of the rights of the communities.
The county governments in Kenya are trustees of all community land in Kenya since no community has registered their customary and indigenous lands.
They will, therefore, collect monies paid as a result of compensation and deposit the monies in a special interest-earning account of the county government.
The Act provides that upon registration of community land, the respective county government shall promptly release to the community the monies payable for compulsory acquisition.
Will they? Your guess is as good as mine.
The spirit of the law is ensuring that communities are able to govern their own lands and eliminate mismanagement that may be a result of another body or institution that acts as a trustee or manager on behalf of the community.
Communities must, therefore, be empowered urgently through advocacy to meet the requirements of the law and register their lands.
To facilitate the process, the county governments must document, map and develop an inventory of all community land and submit the same to the Lands Cabinet Secretary.
The CS on the other hand must appoint community land registrars and adjudication officers in respect to every community registration unit alongside other responsibilities that then facilitate communities qualified to file a claim over their land.
Eileen Wakesho, adviser, Community Land Protection Programme.