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Kenya on course to address historical land injustices

By Lancy Dalton Ysabel | November 10th 2017

There is a popular quote from Margaret Mitchell’s novel, Gone with the Wind, that “Land is the only thing in the world worth working for, worth fighting for, worth dying for, because it’s the only thing that lasts.” Whereas this is the most important asset for the survival of humanity, it has bred many local and international disputes.

In Kenya, it is an indispensable factor of production and a key cog in our economic wheel, but yet it has always been an emotive issue.

However, what many people seem to forget is that historical land injustices began in 1895 when Kenya became a protectorate under the British East African Protectorate.


Since the struggle for independence, the country has been grappling with deliberate misapplication of laws and policies, purposive subversion of land administration processes, and illegal pre-independence treaties.

Sometimes ambiguous post-independence skewed settlement policies have been our benchmarks with regard to addressing land issues, and we are still struggling to close the lid on double-edged foreign concepts of land ownership.

In all honesty, it was not until the promulgation of the new Constitution in 2010 that the first rays of addressing historical land injustices began to show.

Although there is still a long way to go, the country has made tremendous progress in seeing about the implementation of the recommendations in the Ndung’u Report and the TJRC report.

The steps taken

First came the establishment of the National Land Commission that would later agitate for the land reforms that the country has seen hitherto. The Commission, through a collaborative framework, later developed legislations that culminated in the enactment of the Land Laws Amendment Act 2016, which gave effect to the constitutional requirement for redress of historical land injustices.

The Muhammad Swazuri-led team later embarked on the development of the requisite regulations to operationalise the aforementioned Act, and now it is upon parliament to pass them to facilitate the operations of the Commission.

It goes without saying that what the country needs right now is solutions rather than rhetoric and politicisation of the whole issue.

Pursuant to its mandate to “initiate investigations on its own initiative or on a complaint into present or historical land injustices and recommend appropriate redress”, the Commission’s decision to set up the Historical Land Injustices Committee is also a sure-fire way of working on the 111 claims launched hitherto. With the criteria listening and deciding the claims already in place, addressing historical land injustices conclusively now seems possible than ever.

Affirmative Action, restitution, and resettlement on alternative land are among the remedies the Commission would consider upon concluding qualifying claims.

Challenges on the way

Of course, the Commission would encounter a myriad of challenges, but support from the National Treasury, the Ministry of Lands, and the National Police Service will power the initiative over such obstacles as legal battles and financial constraints.

This will also make it possible for the implementation of other remedies such as reparation, order for revocation and reallocation of land, and sale of contentious pieces of land and sharing of proceeds.

Although there have been concerns in some quarters that implementing the Ndung’u Report and the TJRC report could potentially undermine the new Constitution, it is evident that the operations of the National Lands Commission are largely hinged on the recommendations therein.

With the Commission set to launch the historical land injustices programme in the first week of next month, the country is finally on course to address the emotive issue conclusively.

Nevertheless, it is high time Kenyans, especially the political class, should realise that politicising the issue will do more harm than good.

Dr Ysabel comments on social-economic issues 

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