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Populism will not address land question

When Sirikwa group squatters clashed with police officers during the subdivision of long disputed 24,000 acres land perceived to belong to the late Mark Too at Eldoret international airport in Uasin Gishu County on May 26, 2022. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

The presidential campaigns took an interesting turn this week when Deputy President William Ruto revived the land question, promising to settle squatters at the Coast on land owned by absentee landlords.

After signing a deal with Coast leaders led by Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi, Dr Ruto promised to revive the 1963 one-million-acre scheme and the Africanisation policy, which will see him entice absentee landlords to relinquish their land to settle squatters or, if they refuse, take it by force.

In various quarters, it has generated debate with some citing big land owners whom they say should also surrender some to the landless.

Both Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition and Kenya Kwanza Alliance have since sought to gain political mileage by trying to convince Kenyans that they are the ones with a solution to historical land injustices.

For instance, Azimio, in reaction, to Ruto’s pledge, accused the DP of trying to take credit after Raila announced that Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho will be the Lands Cabinet Secretary if he wins on August 9. Raila has also promised to resettle squatters in Trans Nzoia on illegally acquired land.

While the issue of land needs to be addressed, politicians should realise it is an emotive issue with potential of causing tensions and even violence not just in Coast but also other regions suffering land grievances.

Indeed, what we have are land questions that need a comprehensive resolution but so far, efforts to address them have proven problematic, which is why we are concerned that presidential aspirants are making populist statements that may come to haunt them soon.

The 2010 Constitution tried to offer solutions, the chapter on land is yet to be fully implemented because land politics is a re-distributive game that cannot entirely deliver winners.

Indeed, while land was the single most reason why Kenyans fought for independence, efforts to tackle the issue have come a cropper. Reports by the Njonjo and Ndung’u land commissions are still gathering dust on government shelves.

One of the key recommendations of the Ndung’u commission was that all illegal allocations of public utility land be nullified, repossessed and restored to the purpose for which they were intended.

Perhaps, this should be a starting point for the next administration to deal with the land question.