In January 2015, Kenyans were treated to a shocking incident in which pupils of Langata Road Primary School were teargassed and activists arrested as they attempted to reclaim grabbed school land.
It offered a sneak preview into the land-grabbing menace that has come to haunt the country, sweeping reforms introduced over the years notwithstanding. Despite stringent laws, private developers, who enjoy the protection of the high and mighty in Government, continue grabbing public land with abandon.
And now, land whose value is estimated at Sh750 million in 15 counties is on the verge of being grabbed following irregular claims by third parties. The Ministry of Lands and Physical Planning says 41 per cent of learning institutions are at risk of encroachment and grabbing.
Threats by government to deal ruthlessly with the culprits, in many cases, remain just sweet music to the ears of the grabbers, many of whom are untouchable due to the powerful connections they enjoy.
An audit commissioned by a lobby group, Shule Yangu Policy Brief on Schools at Risk 2016, shows there are 29,404 public learning institutions (primary and secondary) whose land is at risk of being grabbed. The report also reveals that 83 per cent of the institutions do not have lease certificates, making them susceptible to grabbers, while another 55 per cent have not been surveyed since their establishment. A further 14 per cent have reported land-grabbing and their plots contested.
To address the threats, the Government has instructed headteachers, school board of managements and the communities to erect fences to mark school boundaries and ward off grabbers.
Speaking yesterday at Moi Girls High School in Eldoret after commissioning the national public schools titling drive where 1,000 learning institutions from 15 counties received title deeds, Lands Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimeneyi regretted that lack of the vital document had frustrated various school programmes.
“This activity affirms our commitment to the promotion of education and realisation of their right to education. The protection of public land is underpinned in the Constitution as per article 62 (4),” the CS said.
Not for sale
He said his ministry had proposed a joint initiative with relevant Government agencies and institutions to protect school land. “It is only in Kenya where you will find a poster warning the public thus: ‘This land is not for sale’. This clearly show that land grabbers are everywhere yet nobody is above the law,” he warned.
He asked the National Land Commission (NLC) to stand firm in its quest to reclaim grabbed public land by rooting for the adoption for the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) mechanisms to expedite land disputes.
“I am appalled that some communities which willingly donated land for the establishment of public schools are coming back to reclaim it after realising the prices have skyrocketed. We shall not tolerate this but stick to what the law says,” Prof Kaimenyi said.
He said court cases filed by individuals occupying school land had frustrated the state’s quest to recover grabbed land. “There have been numerous cases when we are served with a court order when we are in the final stages of recovering grabbed land. This has been the biggest impediment to us and the Lands commission,” he said.
NLC chairman Muhammad Swazuri said there was a cartel on the prowl but the Commission will do everything within its powers to ensure justice is done.
“President Uhuru Kenyatta had issued a three-month directive that all learning institutions receive title deeds but the process has been slowed down by various challenges,” Swazuri said, adding: “We are now seeing cartels fighting back through various institutions”.
Shule Yangu Alliance Associate Director Irungu Houghton commented the Government for the titling of schools but warned that many are still at risk of losing their land.