The LANDac fellows from the Professional Learning Network share their experiences in the blog series.
Fridah Githuku, Executive Director GROOTS Kenya and a Fellow, Netherlands Land Academy
In November 2019, I had the privilege of hosting my comrades, Salah Abukashawa (Director of Estidama, Centre for Land and Environmental Governance in Sudan) and Griet Steel (assistant professor at Utrecht University). The two travelled to Kenya to support my research project under the LANDac professional learning program. After a week of field work in Laikipia County, Kenya, the duo deserved a treat. We set out to visit my home village, 50 kms from the Capital of Nairobi, Muthiga-ini Village, Kiamwangi Sub-Location, Kiambu County. The village is easily accessible by a recently tarmacked road. It took us approximately 40 minutes to get there by car from the center of Nairobi. After enjoying a heavy local lunch we decide to take a walk across the river to visit my grandmother and fight a “Food Coma”.
As we walk down towards Theta River, I couldn’t help but notice the land degradation around the Riparian area brought about by uncontrolled quarrying activities. Quarrying involves the artisanal excavation of rocks, construction aggregate, sand and gravel from the ground, usually in open pit mines.
I am at pain trying to explain the former capacity of the river to Dr. Griet who insists that – this is not a river! The conversation helps me to realize that I am actually living in denial. The river is no more, the bamboo vegetation that grew near the river is gone. There is an increase of eucalyptus trees and the water flow is reduced to almost zero.
The quarrying activities have intensified over the past years. When I was growing up, the Theta river was full and the locals swam and fetched water here. I fetched bamboo pipes to make the trumpet, in those days when art and music was still part of the curriculum. We have degraded our environment and the environment has taken revenge. Today, my parents rely on shallow wells for household water consumption despite our proximity to a major water source: the Abedare ranges.
This is not the only thing that has changed in my village. November was a wet month and in the small land holdings, I observe that crops are germinating. I ask my mother about the mixed cropping and she answers: ‘they don’t teach us anymore!’ She is referring to the agricultural extension services by the Ministry of Agriculture, a service through which small scale farmers receive technical support on crop production & management, harvesting and post harvesting. I can relate to her comments. As an advocacy organization, GROOTS Kenya has decried the under-resourcing of agricultural extension services in public budgets and the negative impact it has had on small scale farming.
I also notice the crops are not doing well despite the good rainfall experienced in October and November. My father explains that the soil has turned acidic due to many years of using chemical fertilizer. These observations make me recall a conversation LANDac Fellows and other land rights advocates had on Multi-National Corporations from the Global North. The companies gained entry to the African market, thanks to neo-liberalism and have supplied farms with different kinds of chemicals for increased farm yields. The local food systems, as Mr. Wanjama, Director of Seed Savers Network Kenya, would put it, have been completely destroyed. Seed Savers Network-Kenya is anchored on traditional science of plant breeding for uptake by all in the community. They work with small scale farmers to support Community Seed-banking, conserving of indigenous and non-GMO seeds.
Both Salah and Griet observe that there are many small shops along the tarmac road in the village. Urbanization is checking in. The former food producers, who have structurally migrated to Nairobi for work and education, have been reduced to consumers: we bring food that we traditionally produced from the outside market. From the face value, the village looks quite developed, with tarmacked access roads, household electricity connections, sprawling tiny trade centers and fair quality of housing. The brick and mortar development is dominating but small-scale agriculture is on the decline.
The youth has three choices: migrate to the capital, engage in boda boda business (motorbike transportation business) or get into stone quarrying. Those who missed out on these three options, end up drinking in dens or are involved in thuggery. And on top of these issues, as evidenced by the Theta River: the ecosystem is threatened every day. Households have no water and they continue to sink shallow wells. The farms have low or no yield and household’s food expenditures keep rising. I ask myself the question: has my village, Muthiga-ini, developed? And if so, what really is development?
About the Author
As head of GROOTS Kenya, Fridah leads a grassroots movement that champions land tenure security for women and marginalized groups. Fridah advocates for a bottom-up and rights-based approach toward tenure security and has worked to build and disseminate evidence on the importance of land rights for women through the Women2Kilimanjaro Initiative and LANDac’s Women’s Land Rights Programme. Fridah holds a Bachelors in Arts-Economics and Political Science from University of Nairobi.
Griet Steel (1), Fridah Githuku (2) and Salah Abukashawa (3)
(1) Utrecht Univeristy, (2) GROOTS Kenya, (3) ISTIDAMA Centre
When you enter Kenya by Kenyan Airways you get a nice welcome video, depicting that wildlife conservation in Kenya is controlled by the Masaai. This tourist message is misleading as the nexus between conservancy and pastoralism is very conflictive, involving very intense land conflicts where the local population (pastoralists and mixed farmers) often comes out on the losing end.
On an exchange visit, in the framework of LANDac professional learning program, we visit Laikipia in central Kenyan, where the ever-expanding white settler ranges or wild parks and the small-scale farmers and pastoralists are competing for land, water and other natural resources. The LANDac fellow from Kenya, Fridah Githuku, Executive Director of GROOTS Kenya decided to focus her research on the impact of these large-scale land-based investments in the conservation sector on women’s rights and gender justice.
For years, Fridah is working with GROOTS Kenya in Laikipia county with a very enthusiastic team of grassroots women’s champions, building a grassroots women’s movement in Kenya to empower women and strengthen their position in decision-making processes. But this time, we enter the area with a concrete research agenda, a team of researchers and a women’s activist, which puts a fresh light on the dynamics in the region and the way the work of GROOTS Kenya can further align with macro dynamics of systemic inequality.
After a few focus groups discussions and key informant interviews it becomes clear how wildlife conservation has become one of the dominant businesses in the area. The business model is simple: you try to attract donor money for wildlife conservation, but combine these conservation practices with tourism revenues, luxury resorts and beef ranching. As a consequence, wildlife conservation – generally driven by foreign investors, settlers and philanthropy organizations – is an important driver for the rush for land in the region, already covering over 40% of the land in Laikipia county alone and tremendously competing with local livelihoods.
According to the public information of Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Laikipia, internationally known for the protection of the white and the black rhino, the conservancy stretches out over 90.000 acres of savannah grassland. In our discussions with some experts, we find that the conservancy is in permanent search for collaborations with other wild parks, governmental bodies and local communities to expand their area of operation.
As a result of the expansion of conservancies, land in the area becomes ever more expensive and thus less accessible for local pastoralists and farmers, who build a rural livelihood on less than one acre of land. These competing interests in land contribute to increased inequality in the region. As one NGO practitioner puts it clearly, “how can one entity own 90.000 acres while local farmers or pastoralists don’t even have an acre”(interview 31 October)?
The conservancy is contributing to employment generation in the area and has several so-called Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes focusing on agriculture, energy, education, health and conservation educations. Discussing the impact of these programmes with community members, it became clear that these programmes are very ad hoc and individually granted to people. They lack meaningful engagement of local actors to identify their own priorities and to develop a transparent community development agreement.
In addition, elective politics in Laikipia is very much driven by the control of natural resources. The conservancy investors clearly align with local politicians during campaigns and local elections. As advocated by one of the women’s activists, this limits the decision-making power of many community members, including women and youth, as they only can advance their political agenda by aligning with the conservancy agenda and becoming part of the cartel process.
To make wildlife conservancy beneficial for both investors and local communities, the marriage between wildlife conservancy and community development still needs some further research and combined efforts from the different stakeholders, including community members, civil society organizations, investors and local politicians. The first days of research have at least offered a framework to better understand how land is organized in the region and how the concrete interests of the different stakeholders could be better aligned. The next step is a multi-stakeholder dialogue with the investors, civil society organizations and community members to reconsider the CSR programmes and their significant contribution to community development.
Griet Steel is an assistant professor in International Development Studies at the Department of Human Geography and Planning. She is an anthropologist by training and has been involved in several international research projects addressing the interplay between gender, technology, land and mobility and the broader challenges of sustainable urban development. She has extensive field experience in several Latin American countries (Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Nicaragua) and more recently she extended her geographical focus to the African continent.
Fridah Githuku is the executive director of GROOTS Kenya head of GROOTS Kenya, Fridah leads a grassroots movement that champions land tenure security for women and marginalized groups. Fridah advocates for a bottom-up and rights-based approach toward tenure security and has worked to build and disseminate evidence on the importance of land rights for women through the Women2Kilimanjaro Initiative and LANDac’s Women’s Land Rights Programme. Fridah has a Bachelors in Arts-Economics and Political Science.
Salah Abukashawa, is the director ESTIDAMA (Centre for land and environmental governance in Sudan). As a land mapping specialist, Salah has worked on land governance for the past seven years. Before he initiated the Centre for Land and Environmental Governance in Sudan (the ISTIDAMA Centre), where he works as a strategist, researcher and lecturer, Salaheldin worked as a manager at the Ministry of Physical Planning. Salaheldin obtained a master’s degree in International Relations, Geoinformation Science and Earth Observations at the University of Twente and a Bachelor’s degree in Surveying Engineering.
Researcher/ Urban Planner
Urban Action Lab Makerere University
“This plot is not for sale” are the six words you will find, marked on a lot of properties and plots of land in Uganda. The words are meant to ward off quack land or property brokers and conmen. Most of the cases handled in courts in Uganda, and Kampala in particular, are fraud-related cases (like selling land while the true owners are away using counterfeit titles) and land transaction fraud (when fake land titles are obtained and sadly some officers in the land registry are involved).
Land-related disputes are not only the most common disputes in court: they are also among the most prevalent types of disputes occurring with and among communities in Uganda, both in the rural and urban areas. These land disputes exist in varying from land grabbing, border disputes, encroachment on protected areas, disputes relating to compensation and family-related disputes like succession. Causes of these disputes also vary: from population pressure to corruption, infrastructural development and changing land use patters. (Landnet, 2017a).
Land registration in Uganda is characterized by poor record keeping and outdated systems, processes and records. In addition, there is a lack of transparency and accountability in the land sector as well as appropriate mechanisms to resolve land disputes. Over the years, this has resulted in the proliferation of land disputes in the country and the situation has been exploited by fraudsters who impersonate landowners, declare living persons dead or vice versa, forge certificates and illegally sell land to unsuspecting buyers.
As a result, many households face tenure insecurity, which influences the way households invest in their land. These households may be hesitant to construct permanent houses or to plant permanent income-generating crops. But even among groups whose tenure is believed to be relatively secure (e.g. customary landowners and freehold) the prevalence of land-related disputes is clear evidence of insecurity. It will be no surprise that most Ugandans lack faith in the judiciary and other land administration institutions., especially young people with no social support, widows, pastoralist and elders, who are most affected by land disputes (Uganda Human Rights Commission, 2017).
Land-related disputes existed prior to and during colonialism as well as in the immediate post-colonial administrations. The allocation of huge land areas to absentee landlords by the British in 1900 under mailo tenure (permanent ownership of a large plot of land by landlords, subdivided among tenants that have the right to live on and utilize the land) and the co-existence of a number of customary tenure systems created considerable scope for overlapping rights to the same plot that has led to land conflicts. In 1975, Idi Amin nationalised all land in the country, converting the tenure system into leasehold. This caused land tenure insecurities to landowners, customary landholders, bibanja holders (a person that settles or settled on land with the consent of the landlord and pays or paid busulu, a fee to allow them use the land) and those who by the enactment of the 1995 constitution of the Republic of Uganda had settled on land for a minimum of 12 years and above without any objection from the land lord. This situation was overturned by the 1995 Constitution by restating all the land tenures as they existed at independence and set up a new system of land administration consisting of land boards at every district. (Deininger & Castagnini, 2004).
More recently, the government of Uganda has put in place various legal, policy and institutional measures, such as the National Land Policy and the Land Act, for the administration of land in Uganda. However, reports of land disputes still continue to surface and for many households, tenure insecurity remains a daily struggle. Why do these disputes persist, despite the availability of legislative and institutional measures to address them? Are there still gaps in the existing legal framework or are there weaknesses with the implementation of land administration policies and legislation?
It is evident that conflicts over land are increasing and have dire consequences for the affected communities. Perhaps we first need to better understand the nature of land disputes, the role of key actors in land disputes and the factors that contribute to the increase in land disputes to inform better policy agenda’s. But until then, most Ugandans take their own measures to secure their land rights and put up a simple sign: “This plot is not for sale!”
About the author
Teddy Kisembo is an urban planner and researcher at the Urban Action Lab at Makerere University in Kampala, where she conducts research on a variety of urban resilience projects. As a LANDac fellow, Teddy is currently researching urban infrastructure development and displacement. She will be researching the effects of a planned highway between the city of Kampala and Jinja, that goes hand-in-hand with the displacement of hundreds of families. In doing so, she will have a special focus on the effects of the infrastructure project on women. Through the LANDac professional learning programme, that aims to assist local communities to benefit more from land-based investments, Teddy will share the findings of her research with other LANDac fellows and the LANDac network throughout the coming year.