Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Politics of Land Reform in Kenya 2012

Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Politics of Land Reform in Kenya 2012

Article excerpt


This article provides a critique of the final stages of Kenya's land law reform process, which has resulted in the approval of the 2012 Land Act, Land Registration Act, and National Land Commission Act. It argues that in spite of the constitutional and political importance of the new legislation, the process was marked by haste, lack of engagement by legislators, and little participation by citizens. The new laws can be viewed as a deeply disappointing outcome of a decade's struggle over land policy. The article explores the effects of the constitutional deadlines for new legislation; the contradictory role of civil society in relation to the new laws and the bureaucratic structures they create; and the redistributive intentions and potential of the new land legislation.

Résumé: Cet article présente une critique des dernières étapes du processus de réforme de la loi foncière du Kenya, qui a abouti à l'approbation de la Loi "Land" de 2012, de la Loi sur l'enregistrement des terres, et de la Loi sur la Commission foncière nationale. Il fait valoir que, en dépit de l'importance constitutionnelle et politique de la nouvelle législation, le processus a été marqué parla hâte, le manque d'engagement des législateurs, et une participation minimale des citoyens. Les nouvelles lois peuvent être considérées comme un résultat très décevant de la lutte en cours depuis une décennie sur la politique foncière. L'article explore les effets des délais constitutionnels sur la nouvelle législation, le rôle contradictoire de la société civile en ce qui concerne les nouvelles lois et les structures bureaucratiques qu'elles engendrent, aussi bien que les intentions et le potentiel de la nouvelle législation foncière de redistribution.

Key Words: Land laws; Constitution of Kenya 2010; National Land Policy 2009; civil society


In April 2012 Kenya became the latest of many East African countries to approve new land laws. Tanzania, Uganda, Mozambique, Rwanda, Somaliland, South Sudan, and Zanzibar all introduced new laws in "the era of land law reform" that commenced around 1990 (McAuslan 2013:46). This article provides an account of the months leading up to the passing of the Land Act (No. 6 of 2012), the Land Registration Act (No. 3 of 2012), and the National Land Commission Act (No. 5 of 2012) and shows that both the process of passing the new laws and their substantive content bear out Hornsby's (2012:787) observation that "land remains a key fault line" in Kenya. This is true despite considerable optimism that 2012 represented a historical moment when Kenya's system of land relations, which had been at the root of violent conflict throughout the nation's colonial and postcolonial history, could finally be overhauled. The optimism was the result of two significant achievements: the approval of a National Land Policy in 2009 after a long struggle, and the embedding of land policy in the 2010 Constitution of Kenya (in what is commonly called the "land and environment" chapter). It was widely believed that the achievement of new land laws as mandated by the Constitution would signal a milestone in its implementation (see Harbeson 2012).

A number of key events in the post-2000 era preceded the final accomplishment of the 2012 land laws. These included the publication of the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Land Law Systems of Kenya (widely known as the "Njonjo Commission") (Republic of Kenya 2002); the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Illegal/Irregular Allocation of Land (the "Ndung'u Commission") (Republic of Kenya 2004); the publication of the Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Post-election Violence Following the December 2007 General Election (the "Waki Report"); the development of the National Land Policy, which was eventually approved by Parliament in 2009; and the inclusion of a land and environment chapter in the 2010 Constitution of Kenya.1 When on April 27, 2012, the Land Act, the Land Registration Act, and the National Land Commission Act received presidential assent, a decade of debate and activism about land law reform had finally reached a culmination. …

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