New administration, new hope for sustainability in land development

The Kenyan President William Ruto PHOTO | COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Those of us on the land, property and urban development side of the fence, are keen to see what actions will Kenya’s new government take to address adverse issues in this sector, some of which have been burning for ages.

The recent peaceful transition from one president to another in Kenya has been hailed worldwide. Any new regime comes with a basket of promises, some made just to win an election, but some being at the heart of the new president, wanting to make an impact on the development of one’s country.

The people too have their eyes and ears trained on the new president believing and hoping that he is poised to address some of the problems facing them; that life will not go on as usual.

After all, isn’t there an English saying that a new broom sweeps clean, sweeps well? Meaning that when someone new takes control of an organization he is supposed to makes many changes for the better.

Those of us on the land, property and urban development side of the fence, are keen to see what actions will Kenya’s new government take to address adverse issues in this sector, some of which have been burning for ages.

Kenya is looked upon to be a leader in land reform and sustainable human settlements and environmental development; considering in this respect that Nairobi is the headquarters of the UN-HABITAT, and UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme).

Kenya holds a special position in Eastern Africa; is reputed to have the largest economy in the region, and has been leader in many economic and social aspects.

The older generation may remember that many household goods in those days were all made in Kenya: Kimbo, Blue band Margarine, Blue Omo, Colgate, as well as products of Kenya Aluminium Works, to mention but a few.

Carey Francis, Kadenge (na mpira), Leonard Mambo Mbotela, Daudi Kabaka and many others were household names in East Africa. The University of Nairobi (and its predecessors) pioneered regional training in many land-based professions such as Engineering, Agriculture, Land Surveying, Land Economics, and Town Planning.

So, Kenya is looked upon to have an equitable and sustainable regime in land and urban development management. The Sessional Paper No. 3 of 2009 on National Land Policy is a commendable example of a comprehensive National Land Policy. It leaves no stone unturned.

It has in its section 3.6, a focus on “Land Issues Requiring Special Intervention”. Many of the issues pointed out then (2009) still need addressing. These include the need for land redistribution, and restitution as well as resettlement.

They also include resolution of historical land injustices; pastoral land issues; land issues peculiar to the Coast Region; land rights of vulnerable groups; and land rights for minority communities.

Here one cannot fail to mention the case of indigenous communities such as the hunter gatherer Ogieks, Swenger, Yaaku, Waata and Sanya as well as the pastoralists Endorois, Turkana, Maasai, Samburu and others.

All of these are seeing their ancestral lands being taken over, leaving them stranded. The Ogieks are laying claim to the greater Mau Forest and have won a case against the Kenya government. Can their claims be put right, this time around?

Kenya is also home for many refugees including the Daadab Refugee complex with over 200,000 refugees. It is also pointed out that, as a result of political problems, there are nearly 400,000 internally displaced persons in the country whose fate has remained unresolved for fifteen years now.

The sight of Kenyans, especially in the North, facing starvation due drought, is heart breaking considering that water conservation infrastructure could go a long way to alleviate their plight.

In short, many aspects of the National Land Policy 2009 need implementing.

In terms of urban development, Kenya has the unenviable fame of having two of the largest slums in Africa: Kibera and Mathare in its capital city of Nairobi. Should such a reputation be maintained?

On the other hand positive initiatives that have been undertaken to reclaim the fame of Nairobi as a City in the sun, have not gone unnoticed.

The cleaning up of the Nairobi river, the greening of the city and preserving urban forests and open spaces, clearly reflecting the fight of the late Wangari Mathai to protect urban public space from land grabbers; and, the provisions for pedestrians in urban centres, are all commendable steps to be consolidated and extended.

And we, in East Africa are watching with a lot of interest. Urban areas in Kenya need more open spaces, less concrete.

Commendable steps are being undertaken in other cities such as Mombasa, Kisumu and Eldoret. An International Conference has recently taken place in Kisumu (a city founded in 1901) focusing on medium-sized urban areas and proposing strategies to ensure that these do not go informal, the way the larger cities have gone. Kenya may need to have a dedicated urban development and management policy, to propel sustainable urban growth.

Tempora bona veniant!