The land question has remained at the centre of Kenya’s socio-economic and political debates from as far back as 1900.
Every society’s prosperity is predicated on how it uses land as the key primary factor of production.
Land is such an important resource that, if not properly managed, it can be a source of instability in a country. Recurrent incidences of insecurity related to land in Kenya, especially at the Coast and Rift Valley, have greatly hampered economic growth. Investors shy away from an insecure environment.
These conflicts point to the fact that land question in Kenya has not been given the keen attention it deserves. Half-hearted measures to resolve the problem are visible from the land ordinances of the 1900s to the Swynerton plan of the 1950s. The current policy regimes and implementation frameworks are also weak.
Kenya urgently needs well-thought out laws and policies on land use. A country that values lasting peace and yearns for prosperity cannot afford to have 67 per cent of its territory not clearly surveyed and registered.
In our cities and urban centres we need to urgently get the basics right. The planning of our urban centres alone and the enforcement of rules is a joke. Yet this problem is likely to be aggravated in future as we are either poorly planning our cities or we are not planning at all.
In a recent survey supported by Swedish Embassy/SIDA and Act! in Kajiado county, all the land from Kitengela to Namanga and from Isinya to Kiserian has been totally or partially fenced off. Yet the Maasai, the dominant ethnic group in the area, are still pastoralists. What is worrying is that no mechanisms are in place to help them adapt to modern methods of production.
The survey by YESS Kenya further found that 71.2 per cent of families had sold a piece of land at least once, and 89.6 per cent of youth respondents were from families that had sold land before, while 89.6 per cent knew neighbours who had sold land.
These unregulated sales pose future problems. In the survey, 71.6 per cent of the respondents predicted ethnic conflicts in future due to dispossession of the youth by their parents. Some 76.8 per cent foresee conflicts would be between land sellers and buyers.
These fears are not unfounded. There will be increased conflicts over resources, demands for repossession of land sold, increased boundary disputes, frequent conflicts over grazing land, human-wildlife conflicts, and invasions of private and public land by squatters.
It is encouraging that Kajaido County has begun the process of sorting out the land mess. A comprehensive land policy is now being debated in the County Assembly. The county has also instituted a task force to plan proper land use. These deliberate efforts are bound to bear fruits and they are worth emulating across the country.
The writer is the chief executive, Youth Empowerment Support Services (YESS) Kenya