Five years after President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered that all public primary and secondary schools be issued with title deeds, 20,669 of them still lack the vital document.
The situation exposes the schools and learners to land grabbers, some who have colluded with corrupt Land officials and hived off thousands of acres of public land belonging to the learning institutions.
According to the latest statistics by the Shule Yangu Campaign Alliance for the protection of public school land, last month, only 11,974 out of 32,643 institutions had been titled. This represents a paltry 37 per cent.
The Shule Yangu consortium is a 15-member multi-agency working group on school land titling. It draws its membership from ministries of Education and Lands, National Land Commission (NLC), Institution of Surveyors of Kenya (ISK), Kenya Secondary Schools Heads Association (Kessha), Kenya Primary School Headteachers Association (Kepsha), Transparency International Kenya, Future First Kenya, Pawa 254, East African Centre for Human Rights, St George’s Primary School Alumni, Kenya Alliance for Advancement of Children and Africa Network Campaign on Education for All.
The agency was formed by current Lands Cabinet Secretary Faridah Karoney.
In 2015, Uhuru directed the Ministry of Lands to issue title deeds to all learning institutions, ordering that school land ownership documents be processed and registered in the names of school committees and management boards.
The directive came in the wake of an attempted plot to grab a piece of land belonging to Langata Road Primary School in Nairobi.
But there is little to show for this and five years later, schools still face the risk of their land being hived off by grabbers.
Data from NLC shows that each school in Kenya has an average of about five to seven acres. Some schools have more. Put together, this means more than 150,000 acres of land would be facing encroachment if titles are not secured in time.
Out of the 47 counties, West Pokot has no public school with a title, with all the 800 schools in the region not even audited for the process of acquiring the ownership document.
Out of the four counties in North Eastern, only Mandera has made an effort to acquire the deeds with 321 of its 334 schools having gotten the documents.
All the 256 schools in Garissa and 311 in Wajir have no title deeds. In the neighbouring Marsabit County, all the 231 schools have no title deeds. Same as Isiolo’s 144. The story is the same for Turkana (473) and Samburu (215). Similarly, all the 300 schools in Tana River have no titles.
Mandera County Education Executive Izzudin Abdulahi said it was a concerted effort among boards of management (BoMs), NLC and Deputy County Commissioners who have been proactive in resolving challenges of community land and disputed areas.
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“We worked as a team to fulfill the presidential directive and communities were supportive. We shared the data with NLC and we are happy we resolved the issues in a short period,” Abdulahi said.
Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha said his ministry will liaise with their Lands counterpart to ensure that each school has a title.
“Public schools belong to the government and we must all work in unison to protect their land and other facilities. I am aware of some mandarins who take advantage of every situation to steal. We will not let anyone steal school land,” Magoha said.
Ibrahim Mwathane, a surveyor and chairman of the Land Development and Governance Institute (LDGI) said it is not easy to get a title due to the demanding procedure of acquiring one.
“It is so complicated and time-consuming for schools in Northern Kenya because land is communally-owned there. Adjudication requires technical input. The process involves teachers, BoMs and administrators to work together. But this has been a challenge,” Mwathane said.
He said surveying and planning are now devolved functions and, therefore, county governments have a key role in ensuring land belonging to schools is titled.
He said through Shule Yangu initiative, of which he is a member through ISK, school heads have been sensitised and are now aware of the legal process to follow in getting titles.
Principals and head teachers complained that the long and winding process of land registration and the hefty sums of money involved have made it impossible for most schools to get titles.
The Shule Yangu report shows schools in cities, towns, urban centres and agriculturally-rich counties are at risk of losing their land. As a result of the grabbing, schools in these areas have disputes arising from court cases lodged by the private developers.
Cumulatively, there are 1,397 schools with land disputes in the country.
A senior officer with NLC said lack of a public land policy in the country was the problem affecting not only schools, but other public land belonging to parastatals, roads, schemes, water bodies and forests.
“All records related to land are with the Ministry of Lands. Maps are with the Survey of Kenya. NLC was thrown out of the ministry, all this points to a non-coherent style of working. This could be a strategy by the political class to derail reforms in the land sector,” the officer said.
He called for a national land policy where all data on public land is stored.
Kahi Indimuli, Kessha chairman, blamed the government for the problem.
“We provided data on all schools two years ago but there is no feedback on this. We need to be told what happened,” Indimuli, who is also the principal of Machakos High School, said.
Kepsha chairman Nicholas Gathemia acknowledged the problem, saying the fight for ownership of the schools complicates acquisition of titles.
“Most of our primary schools have been sponsored by religious organisations who have the titles. They are not willing to let them go and be under the custody of the Cabinet Secretary for National Treasury as is required now. This has slowed down the process of getting titles,” Gathemia said.
Ruiru MP Simon King’ara sponsored the Public Land Amendment Bill, 2018 in Parliament to compel the State to issue all public schools with title deeds.
Though his Bill is now law, little has been done to protect land belonging to public schools across the country from grabbers.
Edward Omalla, Victoria Primary School in Kisumu head teacher, said their problem began in 2012 when part of the land was forcibly annexed, subdivided and given to some individuals.
“We are living in fear. The teachers and learners don’t know what to expect. To date, this land has not reverted to us. It is a case that has been fought for eight years now,” Omalla said. [The writer is a 2019/2020 Bertha Fellow]