Land ownership in Kenya continues to be a thorny issue

Kenyans who live on disputed land at the Mau forest stand by the roadside at a makeshift village. [Photo: Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters]

Kenyans who live on disputed land at the Mau forest stand by the roadside at a makeshift village. [Photo: Finbarr O’Reilly/Reuters]

Since the attainment of independence in 1963, the land issue has been on many a Kenyan’s mind. Many have claimed that the government extended the “land grabbing conveyor belt” pioneered by the British.

The Kenyan government has come under numerous criticisms from human rights groups and the general public for forceful evictions.

In a recent debate organized by Amnesty International in conjunction with United States International University-Africa’s public speaking club, Amnesty International Country Director Justus Nyanga’ya warned that if the land issue was not addressed in time, there would be a crisis in the country for the next 10 to 15 years.

The debate titled “Forced evictions are necessary for African cities to become global players,” attracted experts and political leaders who deliberated on the subject.

The subject proposers mainly argued that forceful evictions is needed by African nations so as to help in proper planning and housing.

Becky Arunga, a law graduate from The University of Nairobi, reasoned that “housing is a basic need for the society hence eviction is needed to provide better environment, security and sanitation.”

This point was strongly rebutted by Grace Kimani, another law student at The University of Nairobi who insisted that forceful evictions result in more harm than good: “Forceful evictions leads to loss of livelihoods hence leading to a more jobless population.”

In Nairobi alone, there are more than 2.5 million slum dwellers who live in an unsanitary environments. This has led to rise of insecurity in the capital. It has also resulted to the widening of the gap between rich and poor.

The proliferation of slums is also due to the high rural-urban migration in the country. Rural dwellers are drawn to Nairobi because they view it as a haven of jobs and good infrastructure.

Edwin Chege, a public speaking champion and a senior year student at USIU-Africa, proposed that evictions are necessary, stating that underdevelopment has led to a “negative perception” of Kenya and Africa as a whole.

“I was in a conference in Indonesia and I was approached by participants in the session and asked me if Kenya has electricity,” he said. “This is because of our poor infrastructure hence diminishing our reputation as a country.”

Professor Ngure Wa Mwachofi, an opposer claimed that “violation of human rights cannot be compared to thinking of city concepts.”

Mwachofi, who’s an associate professor of philosophy in USIU-Africa, said that applying forceful evictions was similar to “competing with Europeans” during colonization times.

Amina Hashi, a high court advocate, said that the law should be used as a guiding factor when undertaking land eviction.

“Eviction is not bad but how it’s carried out tells it all. Laws should be there so as to do away with greedy land grabbers,” said Amina.

PLO Lumumba, director of Kenya School of Law, said that land grabbing started way back when Kenya attained its independence.

“Most rich people today probably grabbed land in early times. Successive administrations have all been associated with land grabbing with leads to forceful evictions,” said PLO.

PLO said that land issue has become a tool used for political gains. He argued that politicians acquire power so as to gain wealth, mainly land.

The land issue continues to be a thorny one however one looks at it.

Osman is a Kenyan journalist and a contributing reporter for Sahan Journal.

Follow him on Twitter: @OsmanMOsman_


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