The Star (Nairobi)

Kenya: Land Issues Cannot Be Wished Away Despite Elections Fever

opinion

Inspector General of Police David Kimaiyo has issued an advisory calling on politicians to desist from discussing sensitive land ownership issues during their campaigns. He fears that this land maneno (talk) could poison the mind of some communities and inflame passions, leading to violence ahead of the March 4 elections.

A few days ago, former minister Joseph Kamotho issued a similar warning, saying that Raila Odinga's jabs directed at Uhuru Kenyatta over the land question could cause chaos in Central Province.

In essence, Kimaiyo and Kamotho are saying that thorny issues on land ownership should be put on ice until after the general election. There is some wisdom in this call. Given the nature of our politics, especially in view of the post-election violence of early 2008, any advice that could ensure peace and stability during this electioneering period is highly welcome.

However, how do we restrain ourselves from discussing the land issue when some incidents in this domain are too painful to bear? For example, how do we expect families whose homes were demolished just the other day on a disputed land in Syokimau to keep cool until after the elections?

In the latest Syokimau land dispute, 15 home owners had their houses demolished after the person who sold them the land failed to clear a debt he owed the previous owner of the land. Despite having fully paid for the land, the poor home owners ended up being victims of the middleman's failures when the previous owner moved in to demolish their houses in order to recover his dues.

"If this is what land is about in Nairobi, then I would rather go buy elsewhere. This is not a safe place to buy land anymore," said Mr Brandan Mudaki after his Sh6.8 million house was demolished.

Another victim, Ms Alice Nangila, just stared at her four children who sat around the bedding they managed to salvage before the bulldozer flattened their house.

"Don't ask me where they will stay tonight. I do not know," she told journalists who had come to cover the demolition.

As the Syokimau families were pondering on what to do next, a court in Nairobi was being told that documents used to transfer a 100-acre piece of land belonging to an IDP to Mr William Ruto, the Jubilee Coalition deputy presidential candidate, were forged.

"When the land records were brought to our office, there was nothing to show payment was received for its transfer and the officer alleged to have executed the transfer was not based at the Eldoret Lands office," Mr Silas Mburugu, Principal Lands administration officer, told Justice Rose Ougo.

Meanwhile, another court was directing President Kibaki to gazette members of the National Land Commission, saying that the reasons given by the Attorney General to delay the appointments had no basis in law and, therefore, ruled in favour of arguments put forward by the Kenya Land Alliance, a lobby group.

With such weighty matters about land persisting in almost every corner of the country, how can Kenyans restrain themselves from discussing the land question merely because elections are around corner?

In this regard, and with due respect to his concerns, I would like to disagree with the Inspector General of Police over his call on Kenyans to refrain from discussing the land question at this time-- the wisdom behind his call notwithstanding. In fact, I think this is the best time for Kenyans to discuss this thorny issue because postponing it could kill the institutional memory needed to solve the problem effectively.

Firstly, it is important for Kenyans to be reminded that land reforms was one of the Agenda 4 issues which they committed themselves to tackle comprehensively under the Kenya National Dialogue and Reconciliation Accord-- this commitment is encapsulated by Chapter Five of the constitution which has nine pertinent Articles that are aimed at addressing the land question.

Unfortunately, serious land disputes such as the Syokimau one abound despite the existence of constitutional provisions to address them. So, if the land question is swept under the carpet now, what would be the right time to address it?

Secondly, Kenyans are being asked to vote wisely in view of the political alliances that are competing for power in the March 4 elections. The land question is among the critical policy issues and that is why a whole chapter has been dedicated to it in the constitution. So, if land is such an important policy issue that would inform voters' choices ahead of the polls, how then can the voters be expected to make informed choices when an embargo has been placed on such a critical policy issue?

Thirdly, the land question appears in all manifestos of the political parties contesting for power in the March polls. How will Kenyans interrogate these manifestos without touching on the thorny issues surrounding land ownership and use? Above all, some leading presidential candidates have disclosed very important statistics on land in Kenya and gone ahead to express an agenda for land that completely ignores constitutional provisions on this resource. How will these candidates be challenged if cold water is poured on the land debate?

Therefore, the search for answers to these questions compels us to discuss the land question now, election fever and emotions notwithstanding.

The writer is the deputy secretary general of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM) and secretary general of the Muslim Leaders Forum.

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