This print-only article was published in the newspaper Business Daily on March 18, 2021. The text has been extracted below to ease reading.
The passing of the Community Land Act (CLA) in 2016 was a critical step towards recognition and protection of customary and indigenous land rights in Kenya. Its implementation will enable communities to safeguard land and natural resources.
However, to date only three communities that submitted applications have received a title — all are undissolved group ranches.
The presumed prioritisation of undissolved group ranches over former trust lands and unregistered community lands may be understandable, but remains deeply problematic.
The undissolved group ranches were surveyed and mapped decades ago and a majority of them have constitutions and community registers required for the registration of community land under the CLA. This is contrary to trust lands.
The defunct county councils held in trust community lands that were never surveyed, they did not put in place bylaws or community registers. In short, undissolved group ranches are ‘low hanging fruit’ for the ministry; issuing them with titles requires less time and effort than supporting trust lands to register.
The problem with this singular focus on undissolved group ranches is that it manifests the continuous exclusion of communities living on former trust lands.
This is outright violation of the spirit of the law and its principles of equity and inclusion. The law recognised that communities on former trust lands are at a disadvantage, and to rectify this inequity, an adjudication for trust lands was to be rolled out and concluded within three years of enacting the Act.
By giving priority to what is easy over what is fair and lawful, the government has delayed the security of the most-vulnerable rural communities in Kenya. Without formal tenure rights, communities on trust lands are at risk of being evicted, not compensated in case of compulsory land acquisition, or other external threats.
The Ministry of Lands must facilitate the registration of all community land. This includes developing and implementing a comprehensive plan to survey and map all former unregistered community lands including trust lands.
Deploy adjudication officers to all registration units while ensuring that community land registrars have resources to process registration applications on time.
The ministry should deploy paralegals or community support personnel to guide communities through preparing registers, delineating boundaries and resolving conflicts with neighbouring communities.
Delineation requires a participatory approach to resolve conflicts that may arise. Lastly, the ministry must also reduce or eliminate costs and associated fees. High costs can impede registration.
Communities should not have to wait any longer to secure their land.
The spirit of the Constitution and the Community Land Act is to shift governance of community land to communities themselves.
The Ministry must midwife this vision immediately and allow communities to enjoy the fruits of secure tenure rights now and for generations to come.