Land question looms large on the eve of General Election

Odenda Lumumba, the Chief Executive of the Kenya Land Alliance,discusses land issues in a recent book-launch.Picture: Odhiambo Orlale
Odenda Lumumba, the Chief Executive of the Kenya Land Alliance,discusses land issues in a recent book-launch.Picture: Odhiambo Orlale

Every election year the ghost of tribalism and the vexed land question emerges as a national issue to divide Kenyans.

A leading expert on land issues, Odenda Lumumba, the Chief Executive of the Kenya Land Alliance, has discussed, analysed and documented the issues very well in a recently-launched book, The Gallant Academic, edited by Prof Patricia Kameri-Mbote and Collins Odote.

Says Lumumba: “In contributing to land reform in Kenya, Kenya Land Alliance used Prof Hastings Okoth-Ogendo’s conceptual schematic to lead civil society efforts. He inspired Kenya Land Alliance to explore and address issues about land, poverty and power especially in making a case for pro-poor access to and control of land as well.”

The publication was launched by Attorney-General, Prof Githu Muigai, who is a former student and colleague of Okoth-Ogendo at the School of Law, and is a living testament to the enduring contribution to property jurisprudence by an iconic scholar who bestrode the African continent like a colossus as a former Dean of the School of Law as well as former vice-chairman of the National Constitution of Kenya Review Conference of Kenya in 2003-2004.

Until his death on April 24, 2009, Okoth-Ogendo was a Professor of Law at the School of Law. The launch was preceded by the Second HWOOO Memorial Lecture which focused on a contemporary issue that Okoth-Ogendo contributed to — Climate Change.

It is to Okoth-Ogendo’s credit as an accomplished teacher and author that the Kenyan Constitution of 2010 contains a whole chapter devoted to by hitherto vexed issues of land tenure, land use, land administration and land conservation.

Kenya Land Alliance was founded as a membership, non-profit and non-partisan network registered in November 2000 as a Trust. Later, to comply with the Public Benefit Organisations Act, 2013, provisions, it was re-registered as a non-governmental organisation in July 2013.

It served two strategic purposes. First, it legitimized the land reform agenda and second, it led to the empowerment of civil society organizations that would later become the overall democratization agenda.

Says Lumumba: “Land is not just a commodity that can be traded in the marketplace, since it represents multiple values which it requires that be managed productively, equitably and sustainably for the present and future generations.”

Picture: OdhiamboOrlale

Picture: OdhiamboOrlale

Indeed, Kenya Land Alliance’s story of land reform in the country had examined the relationships between land, poverty and livelihoods from Ogendo’s ontological viewpoint which perceives land rights as social contracts focusing on the links between those land rights, social processes and structures of political and economic organisation.

This was a departure from the Western-legal view, which emphasises land administration systems that are pro-market, freehold individual land rights, without much regard to social and political relationships around land.

Says Lumumba: “Kenya Land Alliance’s story of the civil society in land reforms in Kenya presents empirical evidence that adoption of well-intentioned land reforms without continued intellectual guidance of citizen’s struggles is bound to be blocked by ruling elites who have great contempt towards pro-poor land reforms.”

According to Lumumba, Okoth-Ogendo was a pillar of the land reform movement in the country and while one does not have to agree with everything that he wrote, said or did, it is disputable that his guidance was a great service to land and aggravating minds in the country and on the continent.

Among the highlights of Okoth-Ogendo’s writings are: Tenants of the Crown; Evolution of Agrarian Law and Institutions in Kenya; The Politics of Constitutional Change in Kenya since Independence, 1963-1969; Constitutions Without Constitutionalism; An African Political Paradox.

The easy-to read essays attest to the works of the former vice chairman of the Bomas Conference, and will also continue to inspire generations of scholars, lawyers and policy-makers in discourses and debates revolving around land law in Kenya and beyond.

“As the normative, legislative and institutional framework for land ownership in Kenya continue to evolve; inspired by our Constitution, it is to Okoth Ogendo’s writings that we shall eventually turn,” says Dr Smokin Wanjala, a judge in the Supreme Court of Kenya, who critiqued the book.

Says Lumumba in an entire chapter he wrote on the role of the civil society on the controversial land question in the country: “Prof Okoth-Ogendo was a role model on constructive engagement in the land sector for civil society and the academia. His lasting legacy to all of us is his well-written word on land concepts and deeper insights on the land question.”

Indeed, upon reflection, it is clear that the Okoth-Ogendo played a fundamental and far reaching role through his work in the National Land Policy, the Constitution of Kenya 2010, and the policy initiative.

In his concluding remarks, Lumumba says: “Prof Okoth-Ogendo’s indelible footprint in national, regional and international land policy frameworks, which we celebrate and reference today, evidences this.”

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