× Business BUSINESS MOTORING SHIPPING & LOGISTICS DR PESA FINANCIAL STANDARD Digital News Videos Health & Science Lifestyle Opinion Education Columnists Moi Cabinets Arts & Culture Fact Check Podcasts E-Paper Lifestyle & Entertainment Nairobian Entertainment Eve Woman Travelog TV Stations KTN Home KTN News BTV KTN Farmers TV Radio Stations Radio Maisha Spice FM Vybez Radio Enterprise VAS E-Learning Digger Classified Jobs Games Crosswords Sudoku The Standard Group Corporate Contact Us Rate Card Vacancies DCX O.M Portal Corporate Email RMS

Not yet ‘uhuru’ for the landless

By | May 31st 2009

By Lillian Aluanga

Sometime between 1963 and 1964, a junior minister of Education caused a stir in the country’s newly formed Government.

That minister, Mr Bildad Kaggia, was troubled by the absence of a land policy.

Kaggia’s passion to address land issues lead to a flurry of correspondence between him, Lands and Settlement Minister Jackson Angaine and the then Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta.

Landlessness, conflicts, lack of a legal framework, and a litany of historical injustices related to the use and distribution of land, are the heritage of Africa’s 34th independent nation.

The former freedom fighter’s agitation for revision of land policies would later force him out of office.

Decades later, Kaggia has been vindicated; a land policy is necessary.

On Monday, Kenya marks the 46th Madaraka Day, but for many, true madaraka (freedom) is yet to be realised after decades of frustration centred around one issue; land.

It is what formed the basis of the independence struggle and gave rise to movements like the Mau Mau. Because of land, dozens paid the ultimate price with their lives, in the hope that successive generations would regain their birthright from the colonialist.

But 46 years later, one of the key objectives of the independence struggle appears to have borne little fruit.

Landlessness, conflicts, lack of a legal framework, and a litany of historical injustices related to the use and distribution of land, are the heritage of Africa’s 34 the independent nation.

Emotive subject

Squatters, IDPs and land grabbing have become familiar terms to a people who once believed that unseating the British Colonial Government would provide answers to a problem that has plagued the country for decades.

Land has been the subject of numerous Commissions of inquiry and led to fierce clashes between communities.

It remains an emotive subject, stirred by politicians at the height of election campaigns and addressed half-heartedly by regimes.

"We have been unable to resolve the land question in Kenya because we are still using the colonial structures built on a selfish and feudal system," says former Nyeri town MP and advocate Wanyiri Kihoro.

The failure to abandon the colonial policy on land, Kihoro says, has led the country to its present state.

"It (land) is a ticking time bomb, and can bring down a government if we aren’t brave enough to address it," says a Land Economist at the University of Nairobi, Paul Syagga.

While land in pre-colonial Kenya was owned under a complex system of customary tenure governed by rules of usage, the country’s occupation by the British changed all that. But as early as 1939, there were already signs of trouble with the country’s land policy. This led to formation of a commission chaired by the then Lands Commissioner CE Mortimer, to make recommendations regarding certain aspects of the Land Tenure Policy.

At independence, things were not made any better given the little resolve from the political elite to address land issues and its skewed distribution.

It was this lethargic response that irked Kaggia.

In excerpts of his autobiography, Not Yet Uhuru, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga gives a glimpse into Kaggia’s feelings on the Government’s handling of land matters, at that early stage of the country’s independence.

In a letter written to Angaine, Kaggia as MP for Kandara takes issues with the land confiscated from freedom fighters in Central Province.

Worrying inaction

"… The land so confiscated was absorbed into the public purpose land and cannot be found now. The whole question is very serious because our freedom fighters expect a complete change of policy on the question. ... To do this, I am sure a Cabinet decision is needed and I shall be glad to discuss this with you," said the letter.

But Angaine’s response was telling.

…"I believe that any attempt to disrupt the present consolidated areas in Central Province would lead to agricultural chaos, a grave setback to the economy."

The Government’s failure to address the issue would return to haunt the nation over 45 years later.

"There has been no new land policy dispensation since independence and no political goodwill to address the issue. One only needs to look at absentee landlords at the Coast and the number of squatters then wonder why there has been no presidential edict to repossess the land," Kihoro says.

He says proposals to set a ceiling on acreage compelling owners of huge tracts of land to give account of its use would be good starting points in seeking solutions.

National Co-ordinator of the Kenya Lands Alliance, Odenda Lumumba, underlines the seriousness of the issue.

"It is as bad as reflected by poverty levels in the country, IDPs, and environmental degradation. Our score on land is as bad as the number of people living in unplanned informal settlements and the scenes of defiance against State apparatus as seen in the tussle of land ownership in Nairobi’s Ngara area," he says.

Lumumba, who was a member of the Paul Ndung’u led Commission into the illegal/irregular allocation of public land, cites the military operations mounted in Mt Elgon against the Saboat Land Defence Force and the proscribed Mungiki sect’s reign of terror in Central Province as other manifestations of unresolved land question.

Draft land policy

The situation, he says, is not being helped much by district boundaries which have turned into ‘ethnic’, ‘clan’ and ‘lineage enclaves’ at a time when Kenya is talking about national cohesion.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Lands Dorothy Ang’ote is however optimistic about the future, but says this will largely be hinged on adoption of the Draft National Land Policy.

"Dialogue on land in this country hasn’t been there. But for the first time since independence we have come up with a policy that will guide the nation toward achieving a sustainable and equitable use of land," she says.

The Draft Land Policy was formulated to address administration, access, use and planning, restitution of historical injustices, environmental degradation, conflicts, unplanned proliferation of informal urban settlements, outdated legal framework and information management.

But even as Kenyans await a discussion of the Draft by Cabinet, the PS warns that ownership should not be seen as a panacea to the country’s land problem.

"We must disabuse ourselves off the fact that owning land will be the solution. What matters most is not that an individual owns land but what they do with it because land is an economic resource," she says.

Prof Syagga says the country’s greatest undoing has been the failure to strike a balance between land use for shelter, subsistence and economic productivity.

So what is the way out for Kenya?

For Lumumba, the Government’s implementation of reforms as contained in Agenda 4 of the National Accord would lay a good foundation.

Syagga proposes the formation of a National Land Commission, as envisaged by the Ndung’u report.

"District and Community land boards will determine the criteria for allocation and address complaints," Syagga says.

Then there is restitution and redistribution of land, as proposed by the Draft Land Policy, concepts he says, have been misunderstood by a section of the political elite and land owners.

Share this story
City council’s pain that just won’t go away
When Kenya celebrated its 43rd Madaraka Day on June 1, 2006, four people, among them a police officer, died during clashes between police and street vendors in the Nairobi Central Business District.
Property developers ride on holiday homes wave
Short-term rents such as Airbnb have become popular with buyers who don’t reside in the houses throughout the year.