By Timothy W. Mwangi – Registered Physical Planner

The ‘Land Question’ debate is restricted to land administration. This is because our philosophy of land management is wrong.  Processing  title deeds as  quickly as possible and expediting the process of conducting searches in Land Registries is considered the hallmark of a  successful land management  system.  We set  ambitious    targets  on   the number of  title deeds   to  be  issued, but are  least concerned  about  how  the  registered  parcels  will be   utilized. We think that registration of land is the   solution to land related problems.  We view land as ‘a commodity for exchange in the market’ rather than as a resource. A careful reading of Chapter Five of the Constitution reveals otherwise.

Physical Planning at  national, regional and county  levels  ensures  that land is ‘ held, used and  managed  in a manner  that is equitable, efficient, productive and  sustainable’  as provided in Article 60 of  the Constitution.  Utilization of land  after registration is equally more important than   registration. If proper land use is  ignored Kenya will  remain unattractive and  uncompetitive  and  unable  to  attain   the  national vision  of  ‘a middle income country providing a high quality of life to all its  citizens  by the year 2030.’

The National Spatial Plan  ( NSP)  2015 – 2045  identifies  uneconomic  fragmentation of  land parcels due to human settlements as a threat to the grain basket ( that include Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Bomet and Nakuru)   and the beef  reservoir  ( that  include Narok, Kajiado, Laikipia and Isiolo )  regions  of Kenya. The Plan proposes control of fragmentation of agricultural land; maintaining urban growth limits and rigorous justification of change of use.

How did we arrive here? First, the country has, since independence, operated without a National Spatial Plan to guide the utilization of land. Second,  despite  provisions  in section 9 of   the Land Control Act Cap 302 , Land Control Boards have  for decades  granted  consents for subdivision of land  to  parcels which cannot  be  utilized  for  the intended  purpose . For  instance a  forty by  sixty  feet parcel cannot  be  profitably utilized  for  agricultural purposes  yet  Boards  grant consent .  Third,  although county  governments  have  a constitutional  mandate  under  the Fourth Schedule to  the Constitution and   section 110 (f)  of  the County Governments Act,2012  to delineate   urban boundaries   and  control  development  in urban – rural interfaces, there  is  no evidence they  have  done so . Fourth and  most important, land  adjudication and  registration   is  carried  out   without a statute on the minimum  size  of  land  that should  be  registered for various  agro-ecological zones .  We  pride  ourselves as  having  an  expanded  Bills of Rights .However, we must in equal  measure  commend  the Drafters  for the  wording in   Article  68  that  requires Parliament  to  enact  legislation   to prescribe minimum and  maximum land  holding  acreages in respect to private land. This  is  one  of the least mentioned  part of  the Constitution   yet  our future  rests  on it .  The eleventh Parliament   has not enacted this statute.   Probably it is not a priority. On Friday 16th June, 2017, Parliament proceeds on Sine Die Recess.  It is hopeless to expect enactment of the Bill during the current fifth and final session.

What is the way forward?  Since  county  governments  have failed  to enforce development control  guidelines,  solution lies in  making  it  more  difficult to  register  land below scientifically determined minimum land  holdings. This may appear as an extreme measure, but it is necessary. Our    history of lack of national discipline is bolstered   by an observation by The Committee of Experts on Constitutional Review.  In   its Final Report, the eminent experts had this to say “Law is after all the product of the realization that man is inherently selfish and disorderly if left to his vice. Law seeks to create order in society so that competing human interests do not lead to mutual annihilation which destroys the society itself. ‘That is why the radical legislation contemplated in   Article 68 should be enacted.  The Twelfth Parliament will hopefully prioritize this Bill; if not, a petition may be filed under The National Assembly Standing Order No. 219 requesting the House to enact the legislation. The National Land Commission and professional associations in the land sector should   act in the public interest and provide leadership in this regard.

As  the  oversight  authority  on  land use  in the  country, The National Land Commission should  be  more vigilant to ensure that National, Regional  and County  Spatial Plans  are  complied  with. The Commission is not a toothless bulldog. It has teeth enshrined in Article 249 and section 6(2)(c) of the National Land Commission Act, 2012.

Unless subdivision  of prime  agricultural  land into  uneconomic units  is stopped  and  urbanization  guided  within the framework of the NSP,  the often cited social  and  economic  rights  will  not  be  realized.  In addition, national security will be compromised.

The Book of Genesis records that God put Adam in the Garden of Eden to tend and keep it. That is the essence of land management.  Wanton subdivision as if there is no tomorrow is not in keeping with God’s edict at creation.  ‘We, the people of Kenya’, promised in the Preamble to The Constitution to bequeath unborn generations a sustainable environment.  At this rate we may fail to do so .That will be most unfortunate and irresponsible of us.  Over to the Twelfth Parliament.