SACROSANCT DOCUMENT

Has the title deed lost its sanctity?

Land ownership ought not to be an extreme sport, it ought not to be like betting.

In Summary
  • It will be highly irresponsible of the government to disown title deeds and other land ownership documents bearing its seal and signatures of its officials.
  • Where there is evidence that someone followed due process, compensation need not be a long-drawn-out court battle.
President Uhuru Kenyatta issues title deeds to Nyandarua colonial villages dwellers on Friday.
LAND OWNERSHIP: President Uhuru Kenyatta issues title deeds to Nyandarua colonial villages dwellers on Friday.
Image: NDICHU WAINAINA

Owning land in Kenya, especially in the big towns and their suburbs, should be added to the list of 1,000 ways to die.

How else can one describe a scenario in which a hard-working Kenyan who earns an honest living buys a piece of land after undertaking due diligence, takes a loan and develops it, starts a family, raises his children then one day, out of the blues and in his twilight years, the government of the day announces that his home sits on a road, sewer or forest reserve and is earmarked for demolition?

Such is the predicament facing many Kenyans who despite owning genuine land ownership documents (issued by the government) have watched in horror as the same government brought down their dream homes built through sweat and blood. To add salt to injury, there is no chance of compensation. Who will save Kenyans from their government?

 

World over, successive governments inherit baggage from previous administrations. Some of the land issues that Kenya faces today can be traced back to the colonial era. My argument should not be misconstrued as a blanket condemnation of the state. Indeed, Article 62 of the constitution mandates the state to manage and protect all public land.

It is true that in some instances, individuals have illegally occupied and settled on what is classified as public land. Efforts by the government to eject them ought to be supported by all.

The elephant in the room, however, is in cases where officials in previous governments degazetted some sections of public land in clear abuse of office, allocated themselves and their cronies large tracts of the hived-off land and finally sold it to unsuspecting Kenyans.

It is not the business of Kenyans to move from one government department to the other inquiring whether the land they want to purchase is on a road, sewer, power line, forest, riparian or game reserve.

The government ought to fully compensate these innocent citizens, even after it goes after the perpetrators, some of whom are now deceased. The government cannot simply run away from the misdeeds of the past.

A special focus must be directed at the Lands ministry, where the commission and omission of corrupt officials has led to bloody conflicts pitting communities and individuals. This is due to malpractices such as double allocation of land or collusion with officials of land-buying companies to disinherit genuine shareholders. Government’s effort to digitise operations at the land registries and regulate land buying companies ought to be commended.

But how can ordinary Kenyans and land developers confidently invest in land? How can one be sure that tomorrow the place they call home won’t suddenly and miraculously mutate into a riparian hence necessitating demolition? Who will come to the aid of Kenyans who confidently and proudly settled in Ruai and Kariobangi for years only for the government to ‘remember’ that it was a sewer line? How about those with genuine titles but are being asked to move because they built on the recently ‘discovered’ Ngong Road Forest reserve?

Something has got to give. The National Land Commission in conjunction with the line ministry must develop sound policies that will make owning land a straightforward matter. Moreover, it will be highly irresponsible of the government to disown title deeds and other land ownership documents bearing its seal and signatures of its officials. Where there is evidence that someone followed due process, compensation need not be a long-drawn-out court battle.

 

It is not the business of Kenyans to move from one government department to the other inquiring whether the land they want to purchase is on a road, sewer, power line, forest, riparian or game reserve. Land ownership ought not to be an extreme sport, it ought not to be like sports betting where one is unsure of the outcome. The title is surely not just a piece of paper, its sanctity must be upheld.

Political analyst and topical commentator