Minister’s statement on land ill-timed

The Ministry of Lands has made an important policy pronouncement on leasehold land:

All 99-year and shorter leases issues before May 1909 have expired, and thus the land automatically reverts to the State.

At the legal and technical levels, the ministry may be right. Any property leased for a specified period must be returned to the lessor once the period expires.

Yet there is something very wrong with the style and manner of the announcement.

Although the minister did mention that there was room for extension of the leases, the impression created was that the Government was repossessing all such land.

Land is one of the most emotive issues in Kenya. It has provided the theatre for blood feuds involving siblings, families, clans and entire ethnic communities.

Announcements in such a cavalier fashion can easily be misunderstood.

Particularly troublesome is the admission that the ministry has no idea of the number and sizes of the land parcels in question.

Assuming it has its records in order, it should have individually notified all those concerned that their leases had expired.

Only in special instances should the present owners not be offered extension.

These include cases where large tracts of land are idle or have not been used for the intended purposes, and where the land is required for public use or for redistribution.

It is also clear that the ministry was speaking before it clearly thought through what to do with the land that may revert to the State.

We are still struggling with the crafting of a national land policy.

Various reports on land issues are gathering cobwebs on the ministry’s shelves for want of attention.

Ongoing efforts at national dialogue and reconciliation will also be addressing the land issue.

A public statement as the one made on Wednesday was clearly ill-timed.

Perhaps it betrays the gulf between what might be Government policy and what might be political activism.

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