SESSIONAL PAPER NO. 3 (THE NATIONAL Land Policy proposals) has been hailed as a radical paradigm shift and possibly "the final blow" to colonialism". It seeks to introduce far-reaching reforms that will pave the way for the permanent resolution of Kenya's perennial land problems and redress historical injustices inherited from colonialism. It has been in the works since 2004, and it did not come easy.
Long before the policy was approved, it had attracted flak and stiff opposition from wealthy ranchers, mostly of European descent, and Kenya's political elite who occupy huge swathes of land under the much maligned 999-year leaseholds. The policy now serves as a sentinel warning to large-scale landowners in Kenya as it is sure to lead to groundbreaking changes to land usage and ownership.
Perhaps the clause that is bound to ruffle more feathers is the one noting: "To ensure that the grant of land rights to non-citizens [foreign entities and individuals] does not unduly deny citizens access to land, the government shall prohibit non-citizens from holding freehold interests in land."
In Kenya, 46 years after independence, land is still a sorely emotive subject! Indeed the liberation struggle waged by the famed Mau Mau freedom fighters was solely based on land, as reflected in the Mau Mau's official name: the "Land Freedom Army".
The key highlights of the new policy include barring non-citizens from enjoying the benefits of absolute ownership over land and subjecting them to a leasehold system. The policy also calls for the change of ownership of land covering thousands of acres, so that it reverts to the state.
According to James Orengo, Kenya's lands minister, the policy emphasises control of the use of, and access to, land. Food production and security is a priority. Kenyans are now bracing themselves to lease land of varying acreage and terms through "land rental markets". The policy gives the government powers to reclaim grabbed public land, tax idle land, and reduce all leaseholds to 99 years. This essentially means goodbye to the colonial edict that gave ranchers 999-year leases, and "land sharks" who prospect on land.
"It is the large-scale landowners who in most cases have unutilised 999-year-lease swathes of land; it is therefore they who would bear the brunt of taxation," says Ibrahim Mwathane, former chairman of the Institute of Surveyors of Kenya. "It is the powerful and wealthy in politics who own the majority of the undeveloped plots in towns, they also risk taxation once the policy is implemented. To them, this is not welcome," Mwathane added.
Openly opposed to the new proposals, the Kenya Landowners Association (KLA), the powerful land-lobby, under the chairmanship of Christopher Foot, appears to have finally lost the battle. According to Foot, the policy, in its current state, will end up impoverishing Kenyans as its major recommendations remove security of tenure from most landowners.
"If we are serious about Vision 2030 and feeding this nation, we cannot go by the policy as it is now; it undermines individual land ownership and promotes communal land ownership instead," Foot argues. "We want a National Land Policy, but we want a sensible policy that does not create more injustices. It should not be a policy that will end up impoverishing the country."
It is significant to note that the KLA was formed in 2007, three years after the Kenya National Land Policy Formulation Process had begun. The interests of the KLA--which brings together tea farmers, coffee, wheat and maize growers, as well as the ranching community from the Rift Valley, Eastern and Central Provinces--were obvious. …