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Kenya,a few own too much land

Publication Date: 3/27/2008
THE STORY IS TOLD OF HOW an adventurous young frog struggled hard to climb into a pot of water. After a few false starts, he finally managed and had a nice time, enjoying the swim. But the pot’s owner came, proceeded to light a fire, and placed the pot on it. When the water started warming, the frog found the conditions even better.

But soon, conditions inside the pot became unbearable and the frog decided to jump out. But upon seeing the fire below, he stopped dead on his tracks. He was trapped in a dilemma of his own making. The water was killing him slowly, but the fire would kill him instantly.

As we seek answers on how the dispute over the 2007 presidential results could have triggered such wanton killings, we might ask ourselves how we got trapped in a dilemma of our own making.

Most of us have been happy to live as if the total disinheritance of entire communities did not matter, and to pay and receive bribes as we sought parcels of land that we did not have rights to. 

SUCH INJUSTICES HAVE NOW TRANS- lated into a ‘‘fiery surface’’ of murder and mayhem. We have been too timid to confront a colonial land-ownership legacy, that is highly insensitive, and full of social contradictions.

For a start, why should we allow 20 per cent of Kenya’s population to continue clinging onto more than 50 per cent of all the arable land, in a country where this category of land carries 80 per cent of the population? 

The irony is that even with all the empty-belly freedoms that we are ready to guard so jealously, none of us is asking these questions any more. 

However, some people have been quite pragmatic. For instance, in an interesting insight delivered a couple of years ago, a former colonial game warden, Ian Parker, pleaded with his fellow landowners of British descent to relinquish some of the land they hold before it is too late.

He wrote: “When Kenya’s system of private land tenure was first conceived nearly a century ago, the population may have been less than 5,000,000. That fact will have played a prominent part in creating the idea that there was land enough for all and that holdings of 50,000 hectares were practical.” 

He continued that as the Kenyan population approaches 40 million, “the idea is no longer valid”, adding that “if the government of 1902 was in office today and charged with devising land tenure, even if it espoused the 1902 philosophies, it is improbable that it could have made the same decisions regarding possible sizes of individual holdings.”

If we are to avoid the fate that befell the adventurous frog, Parker’s thinking ought to be embraced by all who hold onto obscene land sizes. 

But we can assist them by determining, in the new Constitution, what amount of land an individual can own. Our guide ought to be a mixture of economic, ecological, social, historical, security and political considerations.

Once we have done so, we need to then ask those who hold on to the vast tracts of land to voluntarily relinquish what is over and above this optimal size (i.e. what they don’t need).

Of course, many will fight such a proposal. And the irony is that they will probably carry the day. But Parker had some words for those who might resist the inevitable. He wrote:

“HISTORY HAS MORE OR LESS A CO-nstant message on this particular issue. Holders of large land units usually resist the pressures from land hunger until they are broken. It is a process that is usually very costly in social and economic terms. 

‘‘With the foresight of its inevitability in Kenya, it would make much sense if both (the) Government and the land-owners themselves anticipated events by initiating it themselves on terms favourable to them, rather than waiting for it to be forced upon them on terms favourable to their ‘opposition’.” 

What Parker was saying here is that the poor and struggling farmers, who have forever been on the receiving end over ownership of envelope-size pieces of lands in Rift Valley and elsewhere, are not the problem.

They are very much the consequences of a much bigger problem: Historical greed gone haywire. 

Mr Mbaria corresponds for The EastAfrican

Write to the author

About SG

Secretary general of Chama Cha Mwananchi. This blog www.chamachamwananchi.wordpress.com, is based in Sweden.


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