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Land activists push aspirants into a corner

By - Patrick Beja | Oct 4th 2012 | 4 min read
Kenya Land Alliance national coordinator Odenda Lumumba, Shariff Salim and Catholic priest father Gabriel Dolan during the coast land stakeholders’ meeting at Lotus hotel in Mombasa. [PHOTOS: KEVIN ODIT/MOMBASA COUNTY]

By Patrick Beja

Political aspirants who need votes from Coast voters may have to sign a charter to bind them to protect the land interests of locals when elected to various offices.

The initiative dubbed “Coastal Land Charter” was launched by Non-Governmental Organisations and community based organisations at a Mombasa hotel last week.

The groups drawn from the six Coast counties met under the umbrella of Kenya Land Alliance (KLA) and said they would get aspirants to sign the charter by January 2013 ahead of the General Election.

KLA national co-ordinator Mr Odenda Lumumba said those seeking the presidential, gubernatorial, senatorial, legislative and county women representative should sign the charter with the Coast voters. 

“We have exactly four months and four days to commit political aspirants to this charter,” Lumumba said.

The catch is the constitutional clause where the electorate could recall elected leaders if they did not meet the expectations.

But debate is already raging over its timing and scope of coverage with critics describing it as a move to blackmail political aspirants.

The critics want such a charter administered to political parties and cover the entire country.

Lawyer Yusuf Abubaka, said political aspirants are subjected to political party manifestos and that the land groups should have engaged the political entities other than individual politicians.

The best way

“The candidates follow the agenda of their political parties and it amounts to blackmail to make them sign a charter other than those of their parties. The hopefuls will just sign the charter for votes but they cannot implement land reforms on their own,” Abubakar warned.

Abubakar who is former secretary general of Shirikisho Party of Kenya, said even in 2007, some candidates signed agreements with certain groups to support their agenda like land, women and devolution but did not pursue the promises.

“My advice is, these land groups should look at manifestos of various political parties and ask the parties to align them with the land agenda they are championing,” Abubakar said.

Kenya Muslim National Advisory Council (KMNAC) national chairman Sheikh Juma Ngao, said it was not necessary to ask individual political parties to subscribe to a charter for land reforms only at the Coast.

Ngao argued that the land issue has been given prominence in the Constitution including formation of the National Land Commission (NLC) and the best way was to push the Government to fully implement land reforms.

National face

“Political aspirants may rush to sign the land charter to get votes but the Government may fail them. The charter is a good idea but it should be uniform because like Coast,  Rift Valley also has land issues. The charter should have a national face,” Ngao advised.

Shirikisho Party of Kenya (SPK) secretary general Mr Abdulkadir Mwinyi said the Constitution provides for a devolved system and the NLC and various groups should back the structures to make them work.

“There is danger in implementing land reforms in a disjointed manner. The charter was only necessary before the new Constitution.

 “If we go by the charter, there is danger of losing track of the land reforms and hence losing the ship,” Mwinyi warned.

Instead he said all structures such as NLC should be aligned and made effective.

“As a party, we want Kenyans to back NLC and the Ndung’u report of inquiry into land in the country fully implemented,” Mwinyi said.

But the charter project office, Mr Nagib Shamsan said it would not be business as usual for politicians seeking Coast votes.

“Land has remained a serious issue at the Coast and the political leadership must address the demands of the people,” Shamsan said.

Land activists to be trained on the project would mobilise residents for awareness so as to reach out to the hopefuls in the political rallies to sign the charter.

Politicians would also be reached out at their offices and operations posts to endorse the charter in exchange for votes.

KLA and its allies would finally call the hopefuls to hotel venues to append signatures to the deal with the people.

The charter is meant to commit politicians to address themselves to residents’ land demands and champion land reforms under the national land policy.

Lumumba said land rights at the Coast require special intervention and redress because most of it was allocated in an illegal manner.

“Coast has a ligancy of land de possession and that is why the leadership to help deter the perpetuation of such injustice,” Lumumba said.

Lumumba said while the Mombasa Republican Council was calling for a boycott of the General Election, the Constitution still has opportunities to change the leadership and make it responsible to the people’s demands.

Peoples’ manifesto

“Coast can be brought to the shade of development. The Constitution provides the road to resolve land issues,” Lumumba said.

According to the groups, various land matters would be put in the charter, which would serve as the people’s manifesto.

“The charter serves as an expression of the Coast’s people’s demands on land and leaders must implement when elected,” Lumumba said. Haki Yetu organisation’s co-ordinator Father Gabriel Dolan, who flanked Mr Lumumba backed the initiative.

“We have to commit the leadership to the cause of addressing land injustice if the current problems have to end,” said the priest.

The groups want unallocated public and local authority land or parcels belonging to absentee landlords to be redistributed to the landless.

The land reform agenda is anchored on the national land policy, which addresses land issues, some of which are peculiar to the Coast and encompass historical injustices.

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