Lack of clarity, poor surveys major causes of delays in registration of community lands

National Land Commission chairman Gershom Otachi when he appeared before the Trade, Industry and Cooperatives Committee in Nairobi on July 13, 2023. [Elvis Ogina, Standard]

Inadequate surveys and lack of clarity on ownership remain the major causes of delays in the registration of communal lands.

National Lands Commission (NLC) chairman Gershom Otachi said an assessment and evaluation of the delays done by the commission shows there is a lack of clarity on what qualifies as community land.

Otachi said many communities are torn between following fixed boundaries or the natural landmarks which, in many cases, result in conflicts.

"These are the technical issues that have to do with survey and geo-referencing and as we all know they are an expensive affair," he said.

The chairman said the mixture of communities and how people socialize also play a key role in whether a given land can be registered as community land.

"Such lack of clarity and the government's failure to make its position clear has created mistrust amongst communities and people of different counties," according to Otachi.

The official, who spoke during a land policy reforms for East Africa conference at a Nairobi hotel, said the lands commission has drafted a national land policy document that will play a major role in addressing these issues.

"We are concluding on the draft recommendations and once they are ready, we shall unveil the document which we know is key to addressing historical land injustices," said Otachi.

There are several forms of land ownership in Kenya. Privately owned land is recognised under Article 62 of the Constitution. Article 64 describes land possessed by non-citizens, similar to privately owned land. Here, ownership is hardly disputed because the people occupying the land have some form of documentation to prove ownership.

Then there is the community-owned land. In order to protect communities from being deprived of their land, the issue of land held in trust has been addressed by the Constitution under Article 63, which states: "Community land shall vest in and be held by communities identified on the basis of ethnicity, culture or similar community of interest."

The Community Land Act was enacted in 2016 to give meaning to Article 63 of the Constitution. The regulation gives guidelines on how communities are expected to register their land and decide how to use it. Unfortunately, most people, across the country, are not fully informed.

Community land is land owned by people of common ancestry, similar culture or unique mode of livelihood, socio-economic or other similar common interest, geographical space, ecological space or ethnicity.

It can be "registered as a collective title in a Community Land Register set up for this purpose in each county" or not registered but with a community that is recognized to lay claim on the land.

Abdi Omar, the board chairman of RECONCILE, an NGO that deals with land programmes in the Eastern Africa Region, noted that only 46 pieces of land initially identified as group ranches have been converted to community titles across the country out of over 350 pieces of land.

Omar said communities need more sensitization and public awareness so that the conversion process can be made easy.