A recent announcement by
the Kenyan Government promises an end to a long line of corrupt
land allocations, reports East Africa Correspondent Cathy Jenkins.
A terse two-sentence announcement made recently by Kenya's
president Daniel arap Moi has caused a flurry of excitement among
Kenyans. The president announced that he was putting an immediate
ban on the allocation of all public land. His statement coincided
with a new drive to crack down on corruption in the administration.
Land grabbing, where public land is hived off to favoured
individuals, is rife in Kenya, but despite public protests, little
has been done until now.
Land grabbing is something of a national disease in Kenya.
Hardly a day goes by without the newspapers reporting a public
outcry somewhere in the country at the allocation of plots of
public land to favoured individuals.
But because those doing the allocating are often local
officials who wield absolute power in their area, and because
those complaining are the people without any money or power,
little is ever done.
So the announcement by President Moi that he was slapping an
immediate ban on the handing out of all public land caused a
frisson of excitement. It is the first time that anything like
this has happened.
at the destruction of the Karura Forest
Earlier this year, Nairobi reeled as riot police broke up
demonstrations by environmentalists campaigning against the
destruction of Karura Forest on the edge of the capital.
Karura Forest has become for Kenyans a symbol of the evils of
rampant land grabbing. The environmentalists were protesting
against the partial clearing of the forest to make way for an
exclusive housing development.
Government officials argued that the land was needed to relieve
the population pressures on the city. Karura Forest is only the
most publicised case, but environmentalists complain of the
destruction of the forest around Mount Kenya, the country's
highest mountain, and of the development without public
consultation of land along the coast.
Concern for past victims
Firimbi is an organisation which has long campaigned against
land grabbing. Its director, Davinder Lamba, sceptical that
President Moi is serious, still wants to know what will happen to
the more than 300 cases of land grabbing he already has on file.
"If you say now 'halt or nullify all allocation of public
land or halt it by itself, it's not adequate," he says.
He suggests that a commission of inquiry may be necessary to
deal with the issue seriously.
Firimbi points out that according to the Kenyan constitution,
all land in Kenya is either owned by individuals or held in trust
for the Kenyan public: the Kenyan government holds public land in
trust for all the people; local authorities in turn hold this land
for the people resident in the area.
The organisation argues that the history of land allocation has
been that of gross abuse of public trust and of the law and has
resulted in widespread suffering, particularly of the poor and
One group of people which will be hoping to put the governments
sincerity to the test is the Ogiek tribe. They have been
threatened with eviction from the Tinet forest, 190km (120 miles)
north-west of Nairobi, where they have lived for hundreds of years.
The 5,000-member tribe makes a livelihood out of subsistence
farming and bee-keeping. The government says that the forest
contains trees protected under the 1947 Kenyan Forest Act, and is
a water catchment area.
The tribe is fighting the eviction order in court, arguing that
they are an indigenous people, and that the forest is their home
and provides their livelihood.
The tribe's laywer, Joseph Sergon, asks how the tribe can be
trespassing when the government itself allocated five acres of
Tinet forest land to each Ogiek family in 1991. And he wonders why
the government waited until this year to implement a law which was
passed 52 years ago.