In a previous piece titled “Kusema Na Kutenda – To Say and To Do”, I wrote that “Mr. Kenyatta also needs to deal with the internally-displaced persons (IDPs) AND the land issue without the platitudinous and perfunctory ‘land is a means of production but not something to always fight for. Let us work together in finding a permanent solution to this problem’ line from his stump speeches.”
Recent decisions by POK (President of Kenya) point to Kenyatta Son indeed attempting to deal with the country’s seemingly intractable issue of land ownership and its corollary the internally-displaced persons (IDPs). The president recently issued title deeds to over 60,000 residents of the Coast and while the move was welcomed by some, indeed long overdue, the secrecy and haphazard nature of the process does not bode well for the long-term resolution of the land issue.
On the surface, one can argue that the president “semad” and is now “tendaring” as in he campaigned on the issue of land and is now carrying out the (campaign) promise. While I give Mr. Kenyatta kudos for tackling Kenya’s problem of land ownership, I question the process he appears to be using to tackle the problem. To a lesser extent and not as vociferously, I also question his motives.
The process was reportedly secretive and in my opinion, harkened back to the days of Kenyatta Pere and his successor Mr. Moi when allocation of land and approval of the loans to buy said land was done in secrecy and benefitted a select few. Mr. Najib Shamsan of the Kenya Land Alliance was quoted as warning “…that the titles being issued could attract a court battle against the commission if there are reports of discrimination in giving land in settlement schemes.” Mr. Shamsan went on to claim that “there were serious disputes in settlement schemes such as Mwembe Legeza and Ziwa la Ng’ombe in Mombasa and Kijipwa in Kilifi and we doubt whether this has been sorted out.”
The perception of “political interference” and diktats by Mr. Kenyatta’s appointee and Lands Secretary Ms. Charity Ngilu runs the risk of creating the same outcome that Mr. Kenyatta’s father Jomo created when he and those close to him interfered with the distribution of land, especially in the Coastal region of the country and in the “white highlands” of the Rift Valley.
“Demand for (and issuance of) free land contravened the agreements reached with the colonizers that private property should be protected not to mention the ideological sensibilities that land should be earned not granted.” The foregoing is a quote paraphrased from Daniel Branch’s book KENYA: Between hope and despair, 1963-2011 (Pge, 91). The quote speaks to the pitfalls surrounding ownership and issuance of land that faced Kenya shortly after she attained her independence.
The following quote is from the chairman of the Commission of inquiry on Illegal and Irregular Allocations of Public Lands (2003/2004) aka Ndungu Land Commission Mr. Paul Ndungu before he gave the presentation titled “Tackling land related corruption in Kenya”: Mr. Ndungu told those gathered that “The land laws inherited from the British had literally vested the whole Country in the President, and he and his advisors naturally felt that, just as the British Monarch had the power to alienate land as he pleased, it was perfectly in order for the President to use the same powers in favour of whoever he wished.”
Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta runs the risk of repeating the errant ways of his father if he continues along the monarchical path of land issuance sans consultation with others in the government and by near-royal decree.
I will generously file the fact that the National Land Commission and the Cabinet Secretariat (of Land) do not appear to speak with a unified voice under the heading “growing pains” as a result of the New Constitution. Having said that, I will also point out that the disjointed voice between the two entities underscores the import Mr. Kenyatta should attach to ensuring that the handling of this most sensitive of issues, one at the center of the country’s numerous tribal clashes, be done so in a manner that is beyond reproach and with the sensitivity deserving of an issue that is critical to the stability of the country.
Finally, Mr. Uhuru Kenyatta studied Political Economics at the exclusive and expensive Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts; arguably one of the best liberal arts colleges in the United States. He is neither dumb nor naive. The man affectionately referred to as “Njamba” has also demonstrated a keen understanding of history, especially Kenya’s. It would be very unfortunate were he to repeat the mistakes of his father on this very issue of land ownership by allocating or granting land to people in a manner that may be construed as favoring political supporters and with an eye towards upcoming elections.
At the risk of repeating myself, it is this approach to governance that set Kenya on the path towards the tribal animus that erupted into full-scale violence in 2007 and landed Kenyatta Son in front of Ms. Fatou Bensouda on charges of crimes against humanity.