Land Reform

Land is one of the most important resources in the country. It is key to economic growth and plays a central role in national and local development. The management of land is a critical requirement for sustainable development and the Draft National Land Policy addresses the various opportunities to reverse the negative trends and to optimize the possibilities for sustainable development.

This section deals with the issue of Land Reform in Kenya

The National Land Policy constitutes an important first step towards integrating land tenure and land use with sustainable management of the environment. Kenya has ratified many multilateral environmental agreements and has a framework environmental law, the Environment Management and Coordination Act (EMCA) passed in 1999. This notwithstanding, tenure to land has not taken into account sustainable development imperatives. This has to be seen against Kenya’s endowment with fauna and floral diversity including forests, woodlands, swamps, grasslands, plant and animal species.  

It has been argued that because it pursues many objectives, which appear to be irreconcilable, the Draft National Land Policy (DNLP) lacks a clear philosophy and will accordingly be difficult to implement.

This article seeks to clarify the philosophy of the DNLP. It argues that the DNLP is informed by a clear, bold and comprehensive philosophy and should be celebrated for recognizing, for the first time in the history of the Republic of Kenya, that land represents multiple values, all of which should be protected by both policy and law. These values are economic productivity, equity, environmental sustainability and the conservation of culture. That is, land is not just a commodity that can be traded in the market. It is also a significant resource to which members of society should have equitable access. Furthermore, land is a finite resource that should be utilized sustainably. Finally, land is a cultural heritage which should therefore be conserved for future generations.

On Sunday October 29th 2006 the new Draft National Land Policy was unveiled to Kenyans in the major daily newspapers. The main aim of doing this was to enable Kenyans to digest the draft, debate it, and propose amendments that could improve it before it is finalized. However, they can only do this if they understand the content of the draft. One of the least understood sections of the draft is 3.5.7 – Land Information Management principles, since much of its content is rather technical. This article seeks to explain and clarify issues contained in that section, so that Kenyans can better understand it and therefore better contribute to its improvement. 

The draft national land policy has brought into focus the public debate on land administration and land rights delivery in Kenya. The Kenyan people including the policy makers and other stakeholders are yet to appreciate the importance of a comprehensive approach to land matters. The rational allocation, planning, use and development, management and regulation of land is important to economic growth and poverty reduction in the country. This is more so considering the clearly recognized critical contribution of land to the economic, social and cultural development of Kenya. The resolution of land administration and management problems is not only a requirement for sustainable economic recovery and growth but a vital process for minimizing conflicts and tensions between and among various communities. 

Land is critical to the economic, social and cultural development of Kenya. It is crucial to the attainment of economic growth, poverty reduction and gender equity. Its use and distribution in Kenya has been influenced by European settlement that dictated patterns of economic development and types of crops produced. Although attempts have been made by successive governments since independence to make some policy changes and enact laws affecting land rights, land transactions, size of holdings and imposed land taxes, the substance of the law and extent to which laws are enforced has substantially remained the same.


Land disputes in Kenya date back to 1888 when the Imperial British East Africa Company signed an agreement with the Sultan of Zanzibar in which “all rights to land in his territory excepting private lands” were ceded to the Company. This affected the 10-mile coastal strip from Tanzania to Somali border. The Company subsequently ceded this land to the Crown as soon the British East Africa Protectorate was established by the British in 1895.Thereafter massive land dispossession continued in Kenya through various pieces of legislation. 

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COMMENT: Women remain the invisible majority

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Women provide the bulk of labour in agriculture and head one in every four households, yet only 5 per cent of them own land in their own names. 

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COMMENT: Era of 'lost files' at land registries to end

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Perennially, large crowds are always milling outside Ardhi House in Nairobi and at other land offices around Kenya, seeking diverse types of information. 

Owners without title deeds

Culture and customs continue to support male inheritance of family land. The lack of gender-sensitive family laws has created a conflict between constitutional provisions on gender equality vis-à-vis customary practices that discriminate against women in relation to land ownership.

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COMMENT: How the new policy will work

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The long list of deficiencies at the Ministry of Lands headquarters, Ardhi House -- and its complex web of departments, district offices, task forces, boards and tribunals – is reason enough for reform. But it is not the end-all-and-be-all of policy review.

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COMMENT: Efficiency and equity in managing land

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Economic recovery and poverty reduction in Kenya is critically hinged on the rational allocation of land, its planning, use and development as well as management and regulation. 

For the first time in Kenya’s history, there is now a formal recognition that land represents several values that require protection in policy and law. Despite pursuing many objectives that appear irreconcilable, the Draft National Land Policy is informed by this clear, bold and comprehensive philosophy. 

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COMMENT: Waiting for a piece of their own earth

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Mama Kadzo Konde, 68, has a reputation for fearlessness in Coast Province.

Last month, when acting Lands minister Kivutha Kibwana began addressing some 200 angry squatters in Watamu, she walked straight up to him and demanded to know if her land title deed was among those he had brought.

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COMMENT: Creating order from the chaos

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With nearly 35 million people jostling for a piece of just under 3 million acres of arable land, Kenya is running out of space and the country is often described as sitting on a time bomb.

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