Wanyiri Kihoro: Land reform, other Rudi Nyumbanis necessary

Resettlement of displaced people is urgent and must be done quickly. To be away from home for a day looks long. To be away for months, involuntarily, must feel like ages.

But let us not be reckless about the return as this could be a harbinger of greater tragedy.

According to the Kenya Red Cross, there were 166 IDP camps strewn on or to the west of the Rift Valley, with an estimated 150,168 displaced people just before resettlement began. With Operation Rudi Nyumbani, this number declined markedly.

IDPs had been drifting away from the camps anyway and the operation could be a pre-emptive strike by the Government, so as not to be seen as having done nothing. Serious resettlement needs counsellors, land surveyors, valuers, lawyers, teachers and other infrastructure in various measures and not just administrators and transporters.

Forced resettlement is callous

The IDP numbers had been declining because many people were drifting away after waiting for action for months. Only North Eastern and Eastern provinces were without IDPs after the January violence. The rest of the provinces had IDPs, with the largest numbers being in the Rift Valley and the least number in Coast and Central provinces. The return operation is thus concentrated mainly in Central and North Rift.

Some of the IDPs are, however, reluctant to go back where they came from. They need and deserve to be listened to. The displaced know the ground better than the camp managers who are in a hurry to close down and go back to their offices.

To be forced back "home" in these circumstances is callous, uncaring and bigoted to the extreme. You can be sure that the conditions in the camps, and the losses from not being at home to plant during the rains, would be enough incentive for IDPs to return without plodding.

The resettlement must be done in a sensitive manner aware that tensions remain high in the neighbourhoods. Emphasis must be on the different communities accepting each other and living together in peace.

In areas where the IDPs have been displaced from, there are landless and homeless people who also need to be settled in the neighbourhood or elsewhere. Stock taking of these people should be done because so long as they remain unsettled, it will be difficult to build lasting peace.

Talk about the police keeping peace among settled communities should be discouraged just as much as the police do not keep peace in our homes. The police cannot be expected to keep peace among neighbours. Community policing does not fall in this category and local communities should be encouraged to form units. This has not happened as yet to ensure that an integrative force is built and maintained after the police leave.

Land buying companies fiasco

There used to be a settlement rule on building settlements in new areas after Independence. The rule held that new settlements should comprise of 60 per cent local people and 40 per cent non-locals. This formula broke down with the advent of land buying companies.

These companies were formed after the Government introduced the "willing buyer, willing seller" principle as the dominant mode of transfer of land from the white settlers to the locals. The land buying companies sourced the new settlers from the same area, leading to the breakdown in the mixed settled communities.

The principle has favoured the well-to-do at the expense of the landless and should be discarded. It is at the heart of the displacement of the IDPs and has ensured that the genuine landless are excluded from the market, thereby perpetuating many historical land injustices.

The IDPs emergency should not make us lose sight of the landlessness crisis, which is now over a century old. This has brought land clashes, especially before elections. Poverty has now caught up with many and aggravated the human conflict.

The new coalition Government, more than ever before, should heed the calls for a broad-based resettlement programme and a new land use and management dispensation. We need new techniques, which will make more arable land available for settlement by the landless and increase food production.

Every province has its own proportion of landless and poor people who now constitute 60 per cent of our population.

The areas with the greatest land crisis are those that had white settlers at Independence.

The process of the restoration of these lands did not favour the squatters as they had no money — it favoured the rich and the well-endowed who really had little interest in increased food production.

Crisis situation

Unfairness in land distribution will always bleed crisis in overcrowding, insecurity and hence conflict.

In Coast Province, we see frequent land invasion on the belt from Lunga Lunga to Kiunga and also in the Taita/Taveta region. In Eastern Province, there is urgent need for resettlement in areas like South Machakos, Kibwezi and Makueni. The flare-ups are all too frequent.

In Central Province, there are still many landless people living in Mau Mau emergency villages and on road reserves. The land ownership in Kiambu, Muranga, Thika, Nyeri and parts of Nyandarua is still defined by colonial tenures.

The Rift Valley is the most troubled, from Kilgoris through Kericho/Nandi belt to Kwanza, and all the areas in between. Small areas of previously settled Nyanza and also the Mt Elgon area in Western Province fall in this category.

All these are potentially IDP-producing zones.

Let us introduce the necessary land reforms so that we can give all Kenyans a permanent home. If we do this, we will have created an atmosphere for durable peace, security and employment.

The writer is an advocate, land economist and arbitrator

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One Response to Wanyiri Kihoro: Land reform, other Rudi Nyumbanis necessary

Mundes said...

In my opinion, we need to start changing our culture. We associate land ownership to being wealthy so everyone who can afford the smallest piece of land runs our and buys a 1/10 acre just for the status without any consideration for usage. If these small pieces of land can be consolidated they could be sources of employment and livelyhood for most of these IDPs eliminating the recurring scourge. I hope our land reform takes this into consideration.