The more than 40 million Kenyan people represented in 42 diverse and distinctive cultural/linguistic communities remain the nation’s most precious national heritage

It’s been 50 years since Kenya attained independence. On December 12, 1963, Kenyans gained full control of their internal affairs from the British Empire after a protracted guerrilla war, intense negotiation, coercion, blood and tears.

_R2J2752-Menengai-cattle-4-8bitKenya has struggled with land reforms from as early as 1895. Some of the issues include outdated land laws, long and tedious process of planning, surveying, adjudication, settlement and registration of land, irregular allocation of land, squatting and landlessness, unsustainable land utilisation, lack of access to land by some members of the society, such as women and youth, and utilisation of arable land for housing and non-agricultural activities, to mention but a few.

Many Kenyans have acquired land by buying shares in land buying companies that acquire large tracks of land and subdivide them into individual pieces, especially in the former white highlands.

Land is a basis for livelihoods for Kenyans long before the Europeans came to Kenya. On the arrival of Europeans, many Africans were displaced from their land and it was given to white settlers for the establishment of large-scale farms. When Kenya got independence the white farmers were living in fear that their farms would be taken over by Africans. A meeting between Jomo Kenyatta and the Kenya National Farmers Union Chairman, Lord Delamere, led to the re-appointment of Bruce Mckenzie as Agriculture Minister, a position he held in the colonial government.

The Government, however, encouraged Africans to get into large scale farming and set up institutions, such as the Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC) and the Agriculture Development Corporation (ADC) to assist the African Farmers in large scale farming strategies. The Kenyatta government encouraged an agriculture policy whose basis was export as a source of economic development, basically consolidating land as a primary source of economic development for the young nation.

Cooperatives were not new as African smallholder farmers had fought for the formation of their own cooperatives in the 1950s. The first legislation on cooperatives in Kenya was the Cooperatives Societies’ ordinance Act of 1931, which was reviewed in 1932 and 1945. In 1946, the colonial government started supporting the idea of cooperatives for Africans and established the Department of Cooperatives and the office of the Registrar of Cooperatives. Africans were allowed to register cooperatives for cash crops, such as coffee and pyrethrum. At Independence, there were about 1,030 cooperatives.

land-use-3The first Cooperative Societies Act (Cap 490) was formulated in 1966 based on recommendations from the International Labour Organisation (ILO). It was repealed and replaced by the Cooperative Societies Act, No. 12 of 1997. In 1964 with independence, the cooperatives were organised into four tiers – grassroots or primary cooperatives, cooperative unions, national cooperative organisations and the national apex body, the Kenya National Federation of Cooperatives. By 1965, the Government was using cooperatives as a vehicle to introduce African socialism and strengthen ties between people from different regions of Kenya and accelerate development as set out in the Sessional Paper 10 of 1965 on African Socialism and its application to planning in Kenya. Mzee Kenyatta encouraged Africans to return to rural areas to farm, with a popular slogan of the 1960s ‘turudi mashambani’. This was based on the fact that Kenya was an agricultural country and labour to work the land would be a contributing factor to social economic development.

The Cooperative Bank of Kenya was established in 1965 and formally registered as a bank in 1968, a landmark for the people-led efforts at improvement of their social and economic status.

The 2010 Constitution has led to a series of developments, which have dramatically changed the land tenure policies and laws.

As Kenya celebrates its 50th birthday, it has broken from the past and made some deliberate steps, anchored in the Constitution, to provide a roadmap for development and planning for every inch of Kenyan soil for up to 2050, and correct the historical mistakes to enhance social justice, national cohesion and political stability.

All the 75 pieces of legislations — sometimes contradicting each other — scattered in various sections of the old constitution have now been harmonised. The archaic ones have been repealed under the new dispensation.

The 2010 Constitution has seen the creation of the National Land Policy.

The Ministry of Lands has initiated the National Spatial Plan, which is aimed at planning for every inch of land in the country to facilitate social justice and national cohesion.

This will be achieved with the coming into effect of National Land Commission Act, 2012, whose members assumed office on February 27, 2013. The members appointed to serve in the NLC are Abdala Swazuri (chairman) Dr Tomilik Konyimbi, Dr Rose Musyoka, Samuel Tororei, Silas Kinoti, Abigael Mbagaya, Muthoni Njogu, Clement Lenanchuru and Adan Khalif.

The enactment of the Land Registration Act, 2012, and the Lands Act, 2012, has seen the country transition from the old land tenure of 999 years to 99 years.

There are still some challenges because 50 years after independence, the issue of the 10-mile strip at the Coast covering 1,128 parcels of land measuring 80,000 hectares in Kwale, Kilifi, Malindi and Lamu still persists. This has left 128,000 families as still squatters in their ancestral land. The issue has been outstanding since 1895.

Kenya’s aspirations and dreams of industrialisation in the past five decades since 1963 have been grounded on land and the policies governing the utilisation of this inelastic resource.

Land has always been critical to Kenya’s economic, social, political and cultural development and was a major trigger for the struggle for independence against colonial settlers who occupied the choicest arable land.

Although Kenya occupies 582,645 square kilometres, its more than 40 million people still rely on the 20 per cent arable land for settlement, housing and food production.

Since 1956, a total of 1.92 million parcels of land on 8.09 million hectares have been registered under the sub-division of Trust Land Registration of individual titles and more than 4.3 million titles issued.

So far, over 268,000 families have also been settled in 459 schemes on over 1.2 million hectares of land, while 401 group ranches with 65,000 members, occupying about 2.0 million hectares have also been incorporated and registered.

Increased population has led to unplanned settlement, haphazard development and increased pressure on prime land.

The pressure has in turn caused intense competition, giving rise to conflicts evidenced from the pre-colonial days of Persians, Arabs sultans and British colonial settlers.

The current land administration system and policies date back to 1894 when the colonial authorities established legal framework borrowed from Britain and India.