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Brian Inganga/AP

Grabbing of public land by powerful individuals continues in Kenya, despite commendable efforts that have been made over the years to end this menace. The National Land Commission has the primary responsibility of protecting all public land. But Kenyans should also take it upon themselves to safeguard public land by assisting the commission to discharge its mandate.

One of the perils that plagued Kenya’s land and natural resources sectors in the past was that of land grabs. Previous regimes of land administration and management were characterized by bureaucracy in the institutional framework and powerful individuals took advantage of the situation to irregularly acquire large tracts of land from public institutions such as schools, research institutions, hospitals and other public spaces. The widespread land grabs peaked when they spread to forests and threatened Kenya’s ecosystems.

The 2000s saw the country strive to establish appropriate policy and legislative frameworks that would ensure protection of public spaces, forests, wildlife habitats and ecologically sensitive areas. These efforts received a major boost with the promulgation of a new Constitution in 2010, which prioritized land and environment in a whole chapter, and necessitated enactment of legislation to guide management of land and natural resources. New legislation, once enacted, established the National Land Commission, a body primarily mandated to manage public land on behalf of the national and county governments.

Despite these developments, reports in the media point to resurgence of the menace of public land grabs. In 2015, Lang’ata Primary School in Nairobi came under threat but managed to secure their land through intervention of the National Land Commission. In late 2015, Lavington Primary School in Nairobi was under a similar threat. In January 2016 alone, we had media reports on attempts to irregularly acquire public land in Nyali Primary School (Mombasa), Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (Naivasha), and Pumwani Maternity Hospital (Nairobi). In all these instances, the National Land Commission duly stepped in to resolve the issues as per their mandate. Recently, the Lands Minister reported that prisons have lost 4,500 acres to land grabbers.

The National Land Commission Act 2012 charges the Commission with ensuring public land and land under the management of designated state agencies are sustainably managed for their intended purpose for future generations.

While I will commend the National Land Commission’s commitment to protecting public land, the responsibility to safeguard public land goes beyond one institution. Each of us in our different capacities as stakeholders in the land sector have a role to play to ensure protection of public spaces.

To the managers of these public institutions, act on any attempt to acquire this land by reporting to the Commission. Additionally, take steps to ensure protection of public institutions’ land by surveying the land parcel owned by the institution, acquiring maps that clearly show the extent of land, and fencing to protect from encroachment.

To the public, the onus is on us to actively participate in protection of public spaces. Public institutions are in most instances easily identifiable. Any attempt to irregularly acquire public land is likely to be noticed by the neigbouring community. Citizens should take it upon themselves to report any suspicious activity such as an attempt to tamper with fences or perimeter walls to the National Land Commission. Moreover, the public have a role of respecting these boundaries and avoid encroaching on public spaces.

* Brian Kazungu is a land and natural resources management specialist.  ([email protected])



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