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Devolved land governance - key to tackling land issues in Kenya?
Liz Alden Wily has recently written a paper entitled "Getting to the Heart of the Matter: Powers over Property. Devolved land governance – the key to tackling the land issue in Kenya?" Alden Wily addresses the issues of land conflict that have arisen in the wake of Kenya's contested election of December 2007, and argues that radically rethinking the country's approach to land governance is key to resolving these issues. The introduction to the paper is reproduced here:
"This informal paper is written as a contribution to the vibrant debate underway among Kenyan land and property specialists as they mull over the implications of the recent upheavals and the role land has played in this. For tenure purposes the upheaval referred to is the locally-driven evictions and mass displacement from especially Rift Valley Province which followed the contested election in December 2007. This saw broadly politically-aligned inter-ethnic resentments find expression in claims that outsiders had wrongfully and disproportionately acquired lands in the territories of other groups. The issue of ‘ancestral lands and historical injustices’ was brought firmly into the public arena.
Opinions vary as to how far the claims of disaffected communities were opportunism that will dissipate as more ethnically-equitable political power-sharing is attained, or constitute grievances that reaches into the very heart of property relations in Kenya. Proponents of both positions agree that economic inequities stemming from Kenya’s capitalist transformation heighten land-related grievance but differ as to how far economic growth and job creation might diminish these grievances. They also differ in their regard for customary land holding arrangements and even their acceptance of this as delivering private property rights.
Meanwhile for the displaced, the ‘security’ they need in order to return to their places of last residence is less a matter of police protection than of warm and lasting welcome by local communities. Those communities in turn show signs of holding firm until the ancestral lands issue is addressed. These realities suggest that irrespective of emergent political power-sharing and potential economic growth, the land issue as it has now crystallised cannot be lightly set aside.
Nonetheless, a peaceful path to remedy does not lie in confronting head-on the issue of the ancestral lands and whether or not these should be acknowledged as existing and thence legally entrenched. Nor does it lie in ignoring the concerns around the status of customary land rights for which ancestral land has become shorthand.
Rather the solution lies in radical restructure of the way in which property relations are governed. The reason this can be effective is that it acknowledges that what is being contested today is not just about property (how it is conceived and legally protected) but about power over property. Helpfully, the solution lies not in restructuring relations among ethnic groups but those between people and state. It is through reform in this relationship that a fairer and safer platform for inter-community land relations may be achieved. So too through this route, inroads into a real and bitter sense of historical justice may be made, and bearing in mind that, strictly speaking, some of the most pernicious of these have occurred in recent history.
This paper lays out three simple measures for setting the ball rolling. The pivot is hardly radical in itself: genuinely local democratization of land governance."
Read the paper in its entirety here.
Posted By Colby Clabaugh at 11:58am on May 02, 2008
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