Kenya's first land policy perhaps not the best

Historical injustices that have resulted in landlessness among Kenyans have been the focus of recent public discussions on a land policy—the first to be drawn up in the East African country.

Previously, Kenya has had no clearly defined laws on how to manage land, leading to a breakdown in land administration. Disparities in land ownership, tenure insecurity and squatting have occurred, often resulting in conflict.
The absence of a land policy has also opened the door to environmental degradation.

The draft national land policy of October this year, drawn up by the government, seeks to address issues of land administration such as access to land, land use and restitution—and the proliferation of slums. However, activists have severely criticised the new initiative.

They claim the document fails to spell out practical solutions to land problems in Kenya, particularly concerning the historical injustices that deprived Kenyans of land. While the policy notes, in the matter of restitution and other issues, that “government shall develop a legal and institutional framework” for handling such matters, this statement has been seen by many as vague and non-committal.

Proposals

With this in mind, civil society organisations gathered the public last week in the capital, Nairobi, to collect views on how to fine-tune the draft land policy—and come up with concrete proposals on how land problems might be settled.

These recommendations are to be forwarded to the government early next month, with the aim of having them included in the final version of the land policy. This is expected to be adopted by Parliament by April next year, thereafter becoming the instrument governing land use in Kenya.

At this week’s public consultations, displeasure was expressed over how those who fought for independence under the auspices of the Mau Mau have been ignored by authorities, which have failed to resettle fighters stripped of their land by colonists.

Formed in the 1950s, the Mau Mau was a militant nationalist movement that bound its members by oath to end British rule and expel white settlers. Mau Mau activity led to Kenya’s independence in 1963.

“The ex-freedom fighters have been treated in a very dismissive and perfunctory manner by past governments ... Yet the group fought for freedom and land,” said Davis Malombe, of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, a non-governmental rights watchdog present at the public land forum, in an interview.

Former Mau Mau combatant John Kiboko is one who experienced this neglect.

“My land in Kirinyaga [central Kenya] was taken away after I and other fighters ran to hide in the bush, rejecting arrest by British soldiers in 1953,” he said of the 2ha plot that was confiscated in 1955 by colonial rulers.

“I now live in Nyandarua [another area in central Kenya] like a squatter, hopping from one settlement to another. We fought for freedom and land. Yes, we got freedom, but where is our land?” the 70-year-old asked, as he hobbled along with the aid of a walking stick. He got the limp after being shot in the left leg while defying arrest orders.

Seventy-six-year-old Waguchu Mwambura, another fighter, lost 1,6ha of land.

“My land in Murang’a [central Kenya] was taken away after I went into hiding for fear of being arrested by the mzungu [Swahili for “white man”]. I now live in Naivasha town [in the eastern Rift Valley], as if I never had a place of my own,” he said.

“My question to the government is: Did the mzungu go with the land after independence or he left it here? If he left it here, why has it not been returned to us?”

Confiscated

Human rights bodies say more than 1 000 former freedom fighters had their land confiscated. Many have since died. The land was seized under the Native Land Rights Confiscation Order of the 1955 Kenya Proclamations, Rules and Regulations.

Banned by the colonial regime, the Mau Mau remained a proscribed movement during the first post-colonial government of the late Jomo Kenyatta, and even during the second administration—led by former president Daniel arap Moi. This made it difficult for the rights of Mau Mau members to be addressed.

The current government of Mwai Kibaki lifted the ban in 2003, allowing former fighters to register the Mau Mau War Veterans’ Association, which has begun pushing for the rights of its members—including those pertaining to land.

Odenda Lumumba, coordinator of the Kenya Land Alliance, said private ownership should not be allowed to stand in the way of restoring land to its rightful proprietors.

“There is a need for the current Constitution to be changed to say that in the event of illegally acquired land, the government has an upper hand to take it back and redistribute it,” he said. “If not, the government should seek land reparation for those claiming to have been hurt by historical injustices.”

It is not only former Mau Mau fighters who are asking for land to be returned. The Maasai ethnic group is also demanding more than 400 000ha of its ancestral land that was signed away by an illiterate chief to the British more than a century ago.

Under the Anglo-Maasai agreement of 1904, the British were to have the land on a lease that would expire a century later. In August 2004, the Maasai duly held a protest demanding the return of their land, only to be dispersed by police.—IPS

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