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BBI team cannot close eyes to unanswered questions on land

By Gabriel Dolan | December 14th 2019 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

After a quick perusal of the BBI Report upon its initial release, this week I found some precious time to absorb a little more of its contents. Each of us most likely approach such documents with our own personal interests and expectations, and mine centred on what it had to recommend on the issue of land. 

Half hoping that there might be a chapter devoted to this most sensitive and divisive of matters, the contents page disappointed. Still, when Chapter 1 was entitled, ‘Notable issues that Kenyans must deal with’ there was hope that gold might be found therein. Alas, after naming 15 issues and not finding land among them, bewilderment set in. Still, better wade through to the end and hope to find some solace and inspiration. No mention of land in Chapter 7 ‘Shared Prosperity’ and wait for it, not a word even in Chapter 8 on ‘Corruption’.

How in God’s name can you produce a 156 page report entitled From a Nation of Blood Ties to a Nation of Ideals and have nothing to say on the matter of land? What about the politically instigated land clashes? What about the land grabbing that was modus operandi of the governing elites and their cronies for a half a century? This could hardly have been an oversight; more like a deliberate decision to ignore the subject matter!

Worse still, sceptics even suspect that the content on land was expunged as it was in the TJRC report. Is the BBI team suggesting that the land question has been resolved and everything is hunky-dory? Is there no recognition that there are many unresolved ethnic issues over land ownership? How can they devote a whole chapter on corruption and just dwell on the pilfering of the coffers when the looters only headed there after they had grabbed most of the public land? How can they really talk about addressing inequality and not acknowledge that a few powerful families own up to two million acres of land while the poor are forced to build homes on river banks and slopes prone to landslides? Put another way, does the BBI team believe that land is not a matter that must be dealt with at this time, or do they imagine that it will resolve itself? 

The only obvious justification for such a grave and deliberate omission must be that the authors did not want to ruffle the feathers of their appointing godfathers. They wanted to present a very sanitised and safe report. In other words, this report was intended for the most part to maintain the status quo and keep wananchi occupied while nothing of substance would really change. When the political class praised the proposed reforms, you can be assured that they see the BBI as a means to consolidate and reinforce their power, not surrender it. When the rest speak of real change, the elites get worried and conspire to silence you. 

Just in case you suffer from amnesia, the Ndung'u Report revealed that there are 200,000 illegally acquired land titles, whose acreage totals over a million in the hands of thieves. How many of those has the National Land Commission or the EACC repossessed? Advocates of real change should be very angry because the BBI was designed to maintain, not challenge or restrain, the ruling class. This was further evidenced by the decision of two senators and one MP to represent Mike Sonko in court and renege on their sworn constitutional promise to protect the public interest and play their oversight role. That they would attempt to justify their decision just added insult to injury. 

Perhaps it should not come as a surprise then that the BBI team chose to avoid the sensitive issue of land since members of the ruling class are the principal beneficiaries of the land grabbing culture. But avoidance will not bring resolution and they cannot close their eyes to these unanswered questions: Why are 56 per cent of Nairobi residents still living in slums, 56 years after independence? How can absentee landlords collect rent on land in the Coast and the NLC stands idly by? Why have no efforts been made to implement the Community Land Act, as well connected individuals still hive off huge tracts for themselves? What are recommendations for sharing benefits of county natural resources? 

Most conflicts in this country have had their roots in the land question. Land and resources are a sitting time bomb that can explode anytime. What is that about Nero fiddling as Rome burned?

- Gabriel Dolan [email protected] @GabrielDolan1

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