Puzzle as northern counties fail to file complaints on historical land injustice
A majority of counties in northern Kenya have not filed a single historical land injustice complaint in the past four years even as the September 21 deadline nears.
The cases filed must be about events that occurred between June 1895 and August 2010, the National Land Commission (NLC) says.
Land disputes and competition for water and pastures in northern counties have been the major factors contributing to conflicts between counties, with leaders trading barbs and repeatedly crying foul that historical land issues dating back to as early as the 1970s were not being addressed.
And while many elected leaders have been accusing their neighbours of having expansionist agendas, these grievances have not pushed them to file these concerns legally with NLC.
The development now raises questions about the motives of certain leaders whose rhetoric on the matter appears not to be supported by action that could correct historical injustices against their people once and for all.
Isiolo, Wajir and Garissa leaders have on several occasions met and agreed to spearhead peace following incessant bandit attacks pitting communities in the three counties against one another and claiming more than 40 lives recently.
But revelations by NLC indicate that only Isiolo had filed a historical land injustice claim since October 2017.
Additionally, though some Isiolo leaders helped Burat and Ngaremara residents to file a lawsuit over alleged encroachment of their land by the military, a similar complaint was not filed with NLC.
High levels of illiteracy in the northern region and a lack of information on how to file land injustice claims on inequitable land adjudication, conflict, natural resources and evictions, among others, have been blamed for reluctance among residents to file complaints.
NLC Commissioner Tiya Galgalo said the agency had received 740 complaints, a majority of them from the Rift Valley, central and coast regions.
She said NLC, in partnership with the Drylands Learning and Capacity Building Initiative (DLCI), was carrying out community sensitisation across the country to educate Kenyans on how to file complaints before the lapse of the remaining 34 days.
Speaking during such a drive in Isiolo town, Ms Galgalo said commissioners had been assigned several regions to speed up the process.
No formal complaints
“We have realised that Kenyans have been complaining but not formally lodging the complaints and that is why NLC committed to educate them on how to present their claims within the 34-day timeline,” Ms Galgalo said.
Residents, especially in Mwangaza area, on the outskirts of Isiolo town, which is synonymous with illegal land acquisitions and multiple allocations, have been asked to file complaints with NLC so that their concerns can be addressed by the government.
She challenged local residents to file their concerns over alleged encroachment into community land by military installations and holding grounds that were exempted in a recent amended legal notice that allowed adjudication in some areas and that was challenged in court.
Among the alleged cases of historical land injustices in Isiolo are a border dispute with Meru, Wajir and Garissa, delayed title deeds in the county that currently has 350 documents and a KDF row over alleged land encroachment.
John Loyan, from Burat Ward, said such sessions were critical as a majority of residents were not aware of how to file a claim with NLC.
“A majority of us did not know the process of filing the claims and we hope (after we file), they will be promptly addressed to ensure we get justice,” he said.
Borana Council of Elders chair Abdullahi Gojobe cited the issuing of title deeds in disputed areas on the Isiolo-Meru border even with a court directive barring it as an injustice that should be speedily addressed.
“It is so sad that our Meru neighbours (in the disputed area) have been getting title deeds despite the court directing that the status quo remain until the historical injustice is addressed,” Mr Gojobe said at the training session.
Failure by counties to file claims in the next 34 days means they will continue grappling with the challenges until another window is offered, and that is uncertain because of the forthcoming election season.
Return to community
Burat MCA Hassan Yarrow, who doubles as the Isiolo County Assembly Land Committee chairperson, said alleged land grabbing by the military and setting aside thousands of acres of community land as holding grounds had affected locals’ way of life. He demanded that the land be returned to the community.
“Our people have been killed and injured by the explosives used by the Kenya Defence Forces soldiers during training and we want them ejected out of the settlement areas to ensure our people undertake their economic activities without any interruptions,” he said.
Isiolo assembly Majority Leader and Kinna MCA Isack Fayo said there was a need to also address both past and looming injustices that could sink the region into trouble in the near future.
He said that with upcoming and ongoing mega projects in the region that will carve out large portions of land, there was a dire need to resolve pending matters so that residents can get compensation.
“No land valuation that has been done ahead of several upcoming projects and that will deny our people their rightful compensation. There is a need to look at such issues so that we do not run the county into another injustice in the future,” Mr Fayo said, adding that the remaining time was adequate.
Ms Galgalo said the Ministry of Lands in partnership with NLC and counties had rolled out a land reform agenda for 2021/2022 covering issues such as land grabbing, alternative dispute resolution and registration of community land, among others, to streamline the sector.
Of the 24 counties with unregistered community land only 10 - Isiolo, Lamu, Marsabit, Mandera, Garissa, Wajir, Tana River, Baringo, West Pokot and Turkana - have submitted their inventories.