Recent opinion polls have shown that the country is deeply divided as we head for the 2017 elections. The war of words between the government and the opposition only serves to set the stage for what could be another violent election. Post-election violence (PEV) in Kenya is rarely about political ideology but rather more emotive issues like land. Consider the 1992 Molo clashes or the 2007/08 PEV and you can see the role land issues play in electioneering period.
It’s safe to argue that the problems in Kenya, political or otherwise begin and are likely to stop with land. The 2007 PEV revealed such deep seated issues that the country remained somber the better part of the coalition government. More importantly there was a need to constitute the Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) to help the country deal with the gross human rights violations and historical injustices since Independence in the hope that Kenya never burns again. The commission did a good job and made recommendations on the way forward, officially handing over the 2200 page document to the president in 2013 for action.
Sadly, the report continues to gather dust as Kenyans continue to see blatant land grabbing by high government officials-including school play grounds. There’s been increased economic sabotage as a result of land prospectors working in cahoots with corrupt government officials buying land earmarked for a grand project or development only to sell it exorbitantly at the expense of tax payer’s money. As reported by the local media, Uganda’s backing out of the regional oil pipeline was the inflated land costs. Not to mention the corrupt officials that benefited from grand projects like the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR).
In recent years land has been used to lure supporters into voting or incite them against voting for an individual, and we’re at that time of the year when the opposing forces take center stage yet again. Will the electorate be duped as years past? It was therefore a relief to hear the CS land says that they were going to name and shame the land grabbers as well as reveal Kenyans with the largest tracts of land at the Statehouse Land Summit. None of that happened.
The Summit promised to give a report on how far the government had handled the historical land injustices; the corruption challenge in land acquisition, idle land and the question of squatters. The corruption challenge with regard to cases of killings related to corrupt land buying companies, like land grabbers case wasn’t addressed. Other than saying they’ll continue issuing title deeds and investigating the unscrupulous land owners, the summit was underwhelming to say the least.
We are fast approaching the official campaign period and politicians will no doubt take advantage of the land issues to whip the electorate’s emotions. It is therefore imperative that Kenyans remain vigilant during this period. It’s your right to own land in your country and not a gift from politicians. As such refuse to be hoodwinked into voting merely because the government has finally done what is right by you. In the same breath, refuse to hear politicians who ask you to chase attack other people who are in your “land”. Have respect for the rule of law. Remember in the 2007/08 PEV it’s the common mwananchi who became an IDP or suffered heavy losses.
As we approach the campaigns, Kenyans should learn from the recent elections all over the world. Failing to act is acting on the negative. Stick with sober politicians who discuss issues and rally around them to the very end.
In the meantime, the government can save us another possible chaos over land issues by implementing to the letter the TJRC report. The dilly dallying around this matter is only postponing the inevitable. As recommended in the report, revoke all illegally acquired titles; to argue that the owner of the piece of land in Lang’ata for instance is not known is quite an irresponsible statement coming from the State. Deal speedily and justly with the squatters as they’re the most vulnerable and easily incited and ensure restriction on the maximum acreage an individual can have to curb the appetite high government officials have over land. Otherwise, there’s no better period for Kenyans to demonstrate maturity at the ballot than now.