Let Coast leaders be sincere on land reform in push to change law

The BBI extravaganza was in Mombasa last weekend. It brought much needed revenue to the city with tourism on its deathbed and transport sector crippled thanks to the executive edict that granted SGR a monopoly on transporting goods. The media expected a showdown between the Jubilee factions but they were disappointed. By Monday it was business as usual with the William Ruto group announcing a programme of public meetings to promote its own agenda for reforming the country.

Be grateful for the conflict among the political elites, however, because if they were to find agreement on a rushed reform programme this country is doomed. When they discover consensus and shake hands it is almost always to their benefit and to the public’s detriment. At least now folk have breathing space to read the task force report if it ever gets published while civil society and the masses have an opportunity to ensure the powerful elites do not mutilate the 2010 Constitution like their forefathers.

In the Coast, however, politicians took the opportunity to promote a local agenda for change. Item number one among its 16 points for reform was not surprisingly the issue of land. What was most astounding, however, was that there was not a single mention of land in the 156 page report from the BBI task force. This was clearly a calculated and deliberate omission not an oversight by the task force because the Coastal leaders had submitted the same memorandum in private to the handshake team.

Rather than repeat the same agenda in Mama Ngina the Coastal leaders might have been expected to ask publicly why their views on land had been censored in the report. The memorandum had demanded that ‘the government must comprehensively address matters of land ownership, titling, management, acquisition and productivity.’ They also insisted on the revocation of grants of land to absentee landlords, the suspension of all eviction orders and that expired leases should not be renewed without county government approvals.

The issue of historical land injustices in the Coast is an old song every politician sings but no one wants to dance attendance to. The BBI must be the umpteenth forum the same agenda gets the coastal blood boiling for twenty four hours and thereafter is conveniently removed to the back burner. The elected representatives of the six coastal counties have betrayed their people for decades and failed to push for the implementation of the Njonjo and Ndungu Commissions of Inquiry as well as the TJRC Report.

The latter stated unequivocally that ‘the communities at the Coast especially the Mijikenda, Taita and Pokomo have suffered the most severe land injustices.’ In March 2015 in his state of the nation address, Uhuru Kenyatta established a restorative justice fund of Sh10 billion for the implementation of the TJRC report. Has any coastal MP inquired in Parliament or the Senate as to the whereabouts of that fund?

Many expected that when a local person got the chance to head the National Land Commission he would lead them to the Promised Land but instead he ended up being led to the court cells. A task force was established in 2014 to investigate historical land injustices but instead of producing a Bill for the implementation of their final proposals the report was reduced to a mere Clause as an amendment to the land laws. Clause 44 in the Land Act is vague lacking any institutional or implementation framework.

There will always be resistance to addressing the land injustices because the powerful elites have already secured their large tracts of land. But the people’s representatives have failed to strategise or to push a common agenda for redress. Was the Mombasa memorandum just more pious aspirations or are they politicians more serious this time around?

Perhaps if they were sincere about land reform then they would have insisted that the issue of land be withdrawn from the national government and devolved to the counties. Now that would have been a much more controversial amendment to the Constitution than the creation of a third tier of governance to facilitate outgoing governors. It would also have put them at loggerheads with the President and his Deputy who are both accused of denying locals access to water in their huge disputed holdings in Taita Taveta. Are they bold enough?

[email protected] @GabrielDolan1

Download the BBI Judgement by all seven Judges - Civil Appeal No. E291 of 2021