In recent weeks, the COalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD) campaign team has chosen to make land an election issue by speaking of historical injustices. This has been seen as pointing a finger at the Jubilee coalition, whose leading lights Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto are believed to own significant tracts of land. In light of this, one of my friends posted on Facebook:
“What are these historical injustices we keep hearing about. My maternal grandfather was jailed by the colonial powers on suspicion of being pro- Mau Mau. Is this a historical injustice? Should reparations be made and by whom for these historical injustices? Methinks we are treading on very dangerous waters on this historical injustices matter.”
This is my take. It is a historical injustice for the Kenyatta family to own (it is said) half a million acres of land, all over this country (including thousands of acres in Coast Province). The defence that this land was bought is no defence at all, because the critical factor is not that the land was bought. The critical factor is that Jomo Kenyatta was President; the Kenyattas would not currently be the owners of that land had that not been the case (i.e. the land could not have been “otherwise obtained”). Now that’s the truth, and I don’t know why we’re afraid of saying it.
(Parenthetically, the same family, in league with others of ill-repute who have their own land cases in court as we speak, and other land cases that ended in unclear circumstances, is in the middle of visiting yet another injustice upon Kenyans, by standing for election while standing accused at the ICC of crimes against humanity.)
Nor are the Kenyattas the sole culprits in this regard; it is alleged that Kalonzo Musyoka stands accused of stealing public land meant for squatters, and that is before mentioning the Koriatas, Criticos’s, and ole Ntutus of this world. I sincerely hope that those who read this are willing to at least admit that these issues are a problem for our nation.
From the foregoing, I hope we can see that CORD itself, although it raised this issue, will bring us no nearer to a solution than the Jubilee coalition. Quite apart from Kalonzo Musyoka’s allegedly fraudulent acquisition of public assets, the Lands Ministry has been under the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) for the last half a decade. Zero land reforms have come of this. Even the far simpler matter of a title deed search is done exactly the same way it has been done for decades – yet by now this data should be online and we should be carrying out title searches from the comfort of our homes. But that has not happened.
How can we solve the problem of these historical injustices, and deal with the issue of vast tracts of land that are held by a privileged few? I believe the Government should charge an annual tax of say KES 1,000 per year per acre on all land, freehold or leasehold. This is manageable if you hold 1 acre of maize in Western or a ka-quarter in Kitengela (KES 250 per year). But if one has 100,000 acres, one would have to pay KES 100 million annually. Such landowners would have to either
(1) Sell that land, or
(2) Lease it, or
(3) Somehow make it produce that KES 1,000 per year, thereby creating employment.
Another benefit is that land prices would fall, due to a sudden excess of supply over demand. All of these outcomes are helpful, are they not?
The tax rate itself need not be fixed, e.g. land can be categorized based on location and the uses to which it is being put. But the broad brushstrokes of a land policy that would result in equalization and re-distribution would be in place.
I would add that the Government should have the first right-of-purchase on the sale of land by large landowners, at the price they purchased that land, without adjusting for inflation. Thereafter the National Land Commission can issue policy on how this land should be used, because land fragmentation is another issue that pulls in the opposite direction of what the KES 1,000 tax would achieve.
Getting this done wouldn’t be easy. Frankly I don’t even know whether my preferred candidate, Peter Kenneth, would be able to tackle it; because getting Parliament to pass such laws (even with a Parliamentary majority) would be difficult. But the problem with Kenya has never been how to solve our problems. The problem has always been whether we want to solve our problems. And from the current poll rankings, we do not.
This thinking (a land tax) is not original; personally I first heard it in Form Two or so from my Ethics teacher, a Mr Silvano Borruso, a wise man who taught that land should belong to the people; the Government should hold it in trust, and landowners should pay the Government for the right to use the land (the land tax). The man had other noble ideas, such as the idea that housewives should get a stipend from the Government for their work, but that is a discussion for another day.