Match political promises made on property to current realities

Evicted squatters in Hindi-Magogoni village in Lamu County.

Evicted squatters in Hindi-Magogoni village in Lamu County. Appreciating today’s circumstances, Kenya’s land policy lays deliberate emphasis, not on landownership, but on access to land.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

Much as most Kenyans read comedy in some of the utterances and actions by the political class, one can look at them a little differently.

Politicians will make pledges touching on any sector regardless of implications on existing policy and law. It therefore helps to take a step back and appreciate that these promises could end up influencing development, and may drive changes in policy and law.

Those who have been paying attention may, for instance, have picked up some of the riveting election promises made touching on land. There’s been a pledge to buy out farms belonging to absentee owners and subdivide and allocate them to the landless.

Another one is to turn Agricultural Development Corporation farms into settlement schemes. The Land Act establishes a Land Settlement Fund for such purposes. This fund isn’t new and has been used to buy land for the resettlement of people in the past, only it was differently named and managed prior to the new Constitution.

Recent studies by the National Land Commission show that over 300,000 families have been settled on about 3.1 million acres of settlement scheme land since 1962. Our population in 1962 was about 8.6 million. It is currently perhaps over 55 million. Records in the Ministry of Lands reflect that the total number of titles issued so far has just gone above 11 million. Most of these have been derived from the adjudication of the former Trust Lands, or ancestral land. With our current population levels, any focus on settlement on land seized from absentee landowners, or even bought from the market, may only fuel further demand.

Arable land

Arable land in Kenya was reported to be about 5,800,000 hectares by year 2018. This is just over 14 million acres. Given the number of titles already issued, most of this must be under private ownership. Therefore, while the strategy to buy land and settle people may help in a few situations, it cannot be effectively used to satiate Kenya’s landless population.

Appreciating today’s circumstances, Kenya’s land policy lays deliberate emphasis, not on landownership, but on access to land; access for beneficial occupation and use of land such as shelter, food production or commercial purposes. This should guide our development path and political commitments. However, other interventions would help to expand access to land, and its use. These should inform commitments by future governments and should be good fodder for political players.

In urban areas for instance, the concept of sectional properties, which enables the ownership of individual units on high-rise developments, has the potential to tremendously escalate ownership and access rights to office and residential use, and even improve the generation of land revenue for most county governments.

Official bottlenecks in county and lands offices have continued to minimise the uptake of sectional units through this concept. Since urban spaces will hold the bulk of our population, deepening the uptake of this concept should be a key target area for intervention by any serious government.

Community land

Community land straddles 24 counties and constitutes over 60 per cent of our land. Yet, most of this land remains unregistered and unprotected. Tenure rights remain precarious and difficult to define and protect. In 2016, Kenya enacted a law to enable the recognition, protection and registration of community land.

Regulations on the Community Land Act were gazetted in 2017. The identification, demarcation and registration of ancestral land rights in these spaces, which are largely arid and semi-arid, will make it possible for resident communities to negotiate with the government for compensation where projects affect their land, negotiate with investors keen on exploiting resources on it and manage any transactions over it.

Bringing this vast land on the register should be a key area of focus for future governments. This will, however, call for major commitments to procure the required technical and financial resources. It would open up, connect and integrate the affected economies. The millions of titles issued hitherto, and those yet to be, form the basis of the routine transactions moved through the survey, planning and lands offices spread across the country.

Integrity issues

Unfortunately, numerous records and service seekers are fertile breeding grounds for frustrations and rent seeking. Integrity issues in most of these offices, therefore, run deep.

A plan to drive a holistic culture and attitude change in all will be necessary. A plan to ensure the improvement of the support infrastructure will be necessary. The newly introduced online management system, “ardhisasa”, will be helpful as it will remove the need for physical interactions and reduce transaction time.

Future governments should sort out the policy and technical issues already flagged by users and ensure optimal use of this critical system. The National Land Policy review that was due in 2019, and the successful resolution of the historical injustices claims pending before the NLC, should be other areas of interest.


Ibrahim Mwathane is a consultant on land governance                  [email protected]

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