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Land reforms have helped to avert election violence


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Land reforms have helped to avert election violence

A group of Murang’a residents protest at the Ministry of Land’s headquarters at Ardhi House in Nairobi demanding that the government provide them with title deeds for their land. PHOTO | FILE

In the past years, as Kenya approached general elections, we would design strategies to avert the possible occurrence of land-related violence. Based on the strategies, we would roll out sensitisation to urge leaders, communities and the executive to avert violence, loss of life and property, and the displacement of persons on account of the land question.

Because such violence and displacement of people had become recurrent during or after our general elections. Violence and displacements dogged the 1992, 1997 and 2002 general elections.

And during the 2005 national referendum, and the 2007 general elections too.

The inherent ownership grievances and historical land claims would never be resolved through violence. Not without the necessary policy, legal and institutional frameworks.

The rampant and shameless grab of public and community land was a concern that frustrated many people.

The President, through the Lands Ministry, then held unfettered powers, drawn from the Constitution and the laws of the time, to allocate any public land available to anyone with little regard to local and national priorities, and the attendant social-economic consequences.

One and half years to the 2022 general elections, I doubt anyone in the land sector is preoccupied with drawing plans on land-related election violence.

After the 2007/2008 post-election violence, Kenya enacted a national land policy whose key principles were carried in the 2010 Constitution.

These two seminal documents subsequently informed the new land laws which have continued to guide sectoral interventions.

It should be curious to all that there was no land-related violence, or displacement of persons in the 2013 and 2017 general elections, which came after Kenya had put in place policy, legal and institutional frameworks that provided mechanisms, and hence hope to resolve pertinent issues and grievances systematically.

The President and the Lands ministry no longer held sway over the distribution of public or community land. The National Land Commission had assumed office and held mandate to manage public land on behalf of the two levels of government.

It also held mandate to address the matter of the grants of public land that had been irregularly allocated. The new laws further provided the NLC with a mechanism to receive, admit and investigate historical land injustice complaints and recommend suitable redress.

With the new community land law, which places governance responsibilities on communities themselves, the risk of community land-grabs has been significantly reduced.

Though there are other initiatives that complemented, the land sector appreciates that some of these gains helped to remove land from the issues-menu from which political actors would fish for items with which to incite inter-communal violence, which, thanks to twisted logic, would propel some to power.

Though we are yet to comprehensively ground our land reforms, it’s befitting to recognise and celebrate these gradual gains.

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