Land experts warn unresolved land cases in Kenya could be 'ticking time bomb'


Chokaa, Mihang'o and Njiru where the court ruled that are illegal inhabitants and were given up to December 31, 2023, to vacate or face demolition. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

Land experts have raised concerns about the growing number of unresolved land cases in Kenya's courts.

They warn that if these cases are not addressed promptly, they could potentially affect the economy.

In light of this, Dr Joan Cuka Kagwanja, the Chief of the Land Policy Initiative (LPI), is urging Kenya’s Chief Justice Martha Koome to implement reforms that would expedite the resolution of land cases and ensure justice is served promptly, thus preventing social tensions from escalating.

With her extensive background in African development and expertise in land issues, Dr Kagwanja emphasizes that the lingering land disputes are not only hindering Kenyans from utilizing their land productively but also having a broader impact on the economy.

She suggests the implementation of a cap on the duration of land cases to prevent them from dragging on indefinitely.

Dr Kagwanja heads the Land Policy Initiative (LPI), an initiative of the African Union, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and African Development Bank (AfDB).

She holds a PhD in Agricultural Economics from the University of Missouri-Columbia and has over 15 years of experience in African development.

She has held several positions at UNECA, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) reckons festering land cases is fodder for social revolutions.

“There should be a cap on the number of years a land matter can drag off before it is resolved,” she told The Standard. “It is a ticking time bomb.”

According to the UNECA-backed land governance-focused body, poor and unresponsive land administration systems have worsened the land crisis in Kenya.

The calls come at a time when the country's courts dedicated to land and environment matters are burdened with numerous unresolved land cases that have been pending for years.

Many of these courts are constantly dealing with reports of land invasion and issues of land grabbing, highlighting the ongoing problem of land disputes in Kenya.

Recently, there was a public outcry when demolitions in Athi River County were halted after the Machakos High Court ruled in favour of the Portland Cement Company, declaring them the rightful owner of a 4,298-acre land.

As a result of these demolitions, families were forced to endure nights in the cold after their houses were bulldozed.

The disputed land, LR N0. 10424, became the target of these demolitions following the declaration by Lady Justice Nyukuri at the Machakos Environment and Land Court, affirming East African Portland Cement PLC's ownership.

Despite attempts by local leaders to provide humanitarian assistance to the affected families, their efforts were thwarted by the police.

Dr Kagwanja called on the Judiciary to institute reforms on land matters on the sidelines of the Land Policy in Africa conference, which focuses on the topics of land policy and governance.

The conference is organized by the tripartite consortium comprising the African Union Commission (AUC), the African Development Bank (AfDB), and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

It brings together policymakers, academia, civil society, traditional authorities, and private sector representatives, to generate “creative and effective approaches to land governance.”

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