Skip to main content
September 19, 2018

Will land bills solve Kenya's squatter problem?

James Ng’ang’a, 49, was evicted from Narok and now lives in Maela.
James Ng’ang’a, 49, was evicted from Narok and now lives in Maela.

Are the land bills being discussed in Parliament going to stop forced resettlement, grabbing and other land-related injustices?

This is the question in the minds of many land rights activists. However, many squatters around the country believe the government may be playing Russian roulette on them, or taking them round in circles.

Zipporah Kinuthia of Oljorai Settlement Scheme in Nakuru County says local MCAs have already started to award themselves land from the scheme. “I was the first squatter in Oljorai. Instead of the MCAs bringing ambassadors to us to address hunger and poverty, they have brought land grabbers. Up to today, the squatters are squatters in their own land and have nowhere to go. Other visitors, despite not having deeds, have settled because they have constructed houses,” she says.

The 8,000-acre Oljorai settlement scheme is claimed by more than 400 squatters mostly from the Maasai and Turkana communities.

Zipporah says that although she was allocated five acres during the distribution of 6,000 acres in phase one and two in 2012, she did not get any title deed.

Zipporah left her father’s Narok home 30 years ago and settled in Oljorai with her seven children. “Now my 13 children are squatters in the same piece of land. So they are the genuine squatters rather than I am. The squatter system keeps increasing,” she says.

She blames the National Land Commission for cooperating with politicians who visit the people only to only solicit for votes. “Despite even our MCAs also being squatters, they have their own interests, and have perceive us voters as their property.”

Zipporah says researchers from the defunct Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission did not seek their views. “If Nakuru County Land Commission will manage to evict politicians from our midst, and give the land to the indigenous people, that may be a total solution,” she says.

Twenty two years ago, James Ng’ang’a’, now 49, was forced to abandon school as his family were evicted from their original Narok home in Enosubukia in 1993.

“We shifted to Maela in Nakuru and stayed there for a year. In 1994 we pleaded with the then President Moi not to victimise us for supporting the opposition Ford Asili during the election,” he says. The father of seven says Moi promised to help them because ‘they had apologised for their wrongdoing.’ 

In December 22, 1994, they relocated to Maela camp with 3,500 other people. 

A few days later, the land was distributed to the three existing tribes and each of the 1400 squatters got five hectares each. Ng’ang’a says his father was apportioned only two and half hectares in Maela, compared to the ten they had left in Narok. 

“The land was divided along tribal lines. We Kikuyus became phase one, the Masai became phase two, and Kalenjin phase three,” he says.

Ng’ang’a’s youngest brother is married to a Maasai, an example of intermarriages which help reduce tribal animosity. He says in 2007, the elders successfully maintained peace, and there was no violence there.

He hopes the three bills in Parliament will solve the situation once and for all. 

There’s a Community Land Bill, a Physical Planning Bill and a Historical Land Injustices Bill.

There is also talk of a Minimum and Maximum Land Holdings Acreage Bill and an Evictions and Resettlement Bill. And there’s now another, the Land Laws (Amendment) Bill.

Odenda Lumumba, the CEO of Kenya Land Alliance complains that the three land bills are being rushed. “Nakuru County has many squatters. There are also people with big land. No tribe can claim to own Nakuru because there is a mixture of tribes, who are troubled by community land,” he says.

The alliance is one of the organisations supported by Nairobi-based non governmental organisation Act Change Transform (Act!) to promote dialogue on the land laws. 

Odenda says that Nakuru county has firms whose 99-year-lease period doesn’t seem to end and that Africans, from whose lands was taken away during the colonial era, have yet to get it back.

“Let’s be patient because this land issue might consume more time. Kenya has been having the opportunity to change land laws for a long time. We as KLA are agitating for land law reform, not land reform. The lives of the people won’t change if we don’t have transparent laws and institutions,” he says. 

“These laws must have transparent specifications of how to solve land disputes. Nakuru County has lots of land con people. The extensive Lord Delamere land looks like it has been sold out but nobody really knows. The NLC recommended laws should be used to complete the articles of the constitution,” he concludes.

ELmard Omollo, a land sector specialist with Act! in Nairobi, says the Community Land Bill constitutes most of what they had suggested. It howevers lacks a clause on conflict resolution. "Instead, it makes this critical provision part of regulations to be made by the Cabinet Secretary responsible at a later date. The lack of clarity in specifying which organ will establish a dispute resolution platform creates an interpretation conflict and therefore makes implementation an impossibility," he says. 

among others

The TJRC report warns that evictions happen every time Kenyans head into elections.“Kenyans don’t know where the TJRC report went after it was released and given to the President because it didn’t succeed. Currently there are lots of versions about that that you cannot determine the correct one,” says Faith Alube of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, another organisation supported by Act!.

“The President only gave out Sh10 billion to help those affected by historical injustices, but didn’t reveal the law to be used in the implementation. He also wrongfully generalised the whole issue; ‘historical injustices’ as he said, just incorporates ‘historical land injustices.’”

She urges the people of Nakuru to ask aspiring political candidates how to get justice from historical injustices. “NLC came up with a draft bill to address historical land injustices, which is stronger than the TJRC report. But this land bill has got stuck. Land Laws (Amendment) Bill even wants to rob some powers from the commission and also tries to provide some provisions around historical land injustices,” she says.

Alube challenges people to embrace public participation, and says "we need to know about these laws and the difference between public and private land – which has been grabbed (by the powerful)."

Dr Steve Ouma, the director of Pamoja Trust, blames “the 1953 Kenyan map drawn by Britons” as the major cause of eviction in the Rift Valley. “The white man came and said every tribe has its own ‘homeland’. The new constitution of 2010 followed the same path by giving us 47 counties, even some of whom use the same old name, like Turkana – while it’s not the Turkana who live there alone,” he says.

He says Yash Pal Ghai-led commission proposed 16 counties, which would have ensured the county boundaries wouldn’t go along tribal lines, “but politicians always ruin everything.”

“The homeless are the ones who have been getting evicted. ‘Evictions’ should be renamed ‘relocation,’ which is something else major which has been used in the bill. When someone gets relocated, compensate them sufficiently so that their life won’t be different at their new place,” he says.

Frank Kibelekenya, the Nakuru County Land Management Board secretary, says: “The National Land Commission is independent, and we are ready to listen to everyone and ensure that everybody gets their rights without use of force.”

On Friday, Pamoja Trust organised a community forum attended by representatives from all infor-

mal settlements in Nakuru. Discussions focused on Gilani, Rhonda and Kaptembwo slums. 

Currently, less than 10 per cent of the residents have access to sufficient sanitation facilities and 

average 37 people share a latrine. Women said they have problems disposing off sanitary waste for 

themselves and the children.

Some of those slums have only one public school serving thousands of people and some residents 

said they live in fear of eviction. Head of legal office at Pamoja Trust Alderin Ongwae said the proposed Evictions and Resettlement Bill should create proper prodecures to be followed incase of resettlements. “Currently they are done haphazardly and so residents of informal settlements live in fear,” he says. 

Ongwae says the community forums are important to help the locals participate in law making and 

shape their destiny.

Poll of the day