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KU's latest tussle exposes Kenya's historic unresolved land question

The main entrance to Kenyatta University. [Samson Wire,  Standard]

In its most recent ruling on political impeachment, the Supreme Court noted that, ‘It bears mentioning in conclusion that Chapter Six of the Constitution was not enacted in vain or for cosmetic reasons.’ I agree.

The same is true of the entire Chapter five of the 2010 Constitution, which is about land and environment. According to the Chapter, two of the principles that should govern land are: sustainable and productive management of land resources; transparent and cost-effective administration of land.

Unfortunately, a large percentage of land use in Kenya is not anchored on these two principles. This must change. The incoming government will have a huge role to play in this and unlock Kenya’s huge potential. It has been long in coming.   

More specifically, the Physical and Land Use Planning Act, 2019 governs all matters relating to planning, use, regulation and development of land in Kenya. This law introduced increased public participation where members of the public can examine both national and county plans and provide critical feedback which must be considered.

When is the last time you accessed a land use plan in your county and voiced your opinions about it? The way we use our land will determine our collective wellbeing and prosperity. Such is the land conversation that we should start having.

The ongoing Kenyatta University land tussle provides an interesting glimpse into competing land use priorities. On one hand, Kenyatta University says it already has plans for developing its 1,000 acres of land. On its part, the government proposes to sub-divide 410 of those 1,000 acres for noteworthy purposes.

It all boils down to land use. That’s why the principles laid down in Chapter Five of the Constitution must remain our northern star. Further to this, the public participation that has been guaranteed by the Physical and Land Use Planning Act, 2019 is critical.

Accordingly, the national and county governments should consider using our land to attract investors and build great businesses.

A few months ago in April, 26 Kenyan companies committed trade investments worth USD 1.6 billion into the Democratic Republic of Congo. These companies understand that DRC is sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country. Its sheer size presents numerous opportunities for investors.

It is therefore not surprising that a company like Tru Foods Limited, which is among the 26 Kenyan companies, is keen on building an edible oil manufacturing plant in DRC.

Kenyan investors have also flocked into Zanzibar. Kenya is now Zanzibar second largest foreign investor, only behind the United Arab Emirates. Zanzibar’s pristine coastal land is undoubtedly one of the attractive features for these investors.

Evidently, Kenya isn’t lacking in investors who can invest billions of shillings into profitable businesses. We need to entrench land into this investment conversation. Our land use should not just be pegged on sentimental attachments or political calculations. Rather, it should guarantee sustainable economic returns.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change advises that land use activities can result in emissions of such greenhouse gases to the atmosphere or removal of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere. A great example is Karura Forest in Nairobi. Imagine if several decades ago, the 2,570 acres of the forest had been replaced by land uses that necessitated cutting down the trees. That would have been disastrous for the environment and Nairobi residents. This forest continues to replenish the environment and provide sustainable jobs for thousands of our people.

Against this backdrop, Kenyatta University should consider planting the world’s greatest campus forest on parts of this contested land. That forest will be a green recreational space, a forest research centre and a multiple job creator.

In the same vein, let us bring together like minds to develop green, profitable spaces on all idle land across Kenya. Think green, act green!