On Historical Injustices (the Land Problem in Kenya)

23 Feb
Kenyan Sunset

Kenyan Sunset (Photo credit: angela7dreams / )

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.


Posted by on February 23, 2013 in Politics


7 responses to “On Historical Injustices (the Land Problem in Kenya)

  1. Njeri Okono

    February 23, 2013 at 3:45 pm

    Great piece, as always. Factual and balanced. My take: legal does not by any means automatically mean moral. While some (not all) of these vast swathes of land were legally obtained, is it right that a minuscule percentage of the population should own so much, most of it lying idle and fallow, while other totally disenfranchised citizens are termed ‘squatters’ by dint of the social stratum into which they were born? Truly, law and justice have absolutely nothing to do with each other, and are not even distant cousins, and any connection between them is coincidence.

    Columnist Lucy Oriang had a recurring theme in her pieces on Kenya as a nation badly in need of a sense of shame. In a piece penned on ‘SabaSaba’ 2006 in ‘The Daily Nation’ entitled ‘Shame is a Useful Thing to Have’, she wrote: ‘”Where I come from, the word for ‘shame’ translates literally into ‘swelling of the head’ …This country will ultimately be saved only when we reconnect with that sense of shame that refuses to let you rest until your head has come down to normal size.”

    More than seven-and-a-half years down the road, we are yet to make that vital connection. We shamelessly continue to applaud thieves, villains, plunderers and opportunists and their dirty money, and to trash and condemn heroes, revolutionaries and reformers. Why, in certain pro status quo circles, ‘activist’ has incredibly even become a dirty word lately!

  2. Eric O.

    February 26, 2013 at 9:50 am

    I fully support the KShs 1,000 per acre per year levy by gava on land. Would force the erstwhile greedy hoarders of land to release it or make use of it. We should also limit the quantity of land held by foreigners…we may soon be squatters in our own country if we are not careful. It seems we may be the only country who allow this to happen.

  3. fredokono

    February 26, 2013 at 8:36 pm

    Reblogged this on FredOkono and commented:
    This blog article proposes the kind of radical out-of-the-box thinking that we must embrace if we are to equitably resolve the long-running land issue in Kenya. Failure to do so will be the death of this country, for to quote presidential candidate Hon Musalia Mudavadi, the people are getting impatient for a solution, and ‘impatient people can abandon the law’.

  4. Emgee

    May 28, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    A Strathmore boy no doubt.

  5. ken ogembo

    August 28, 2013 at 6:28 pm

    Ideally, the truth is that land should be made available, accessible and affordable but that should not mean that we expose our community land to market. the idea will lead to people selling land which otherwise they could have not sold.
    The thinking that we put land into greater production is equal to willing buyer willing seller theory but hence why don’t the government empower the community to be able to make land more productive.

  6. robwaves

    June 26, 2014 at 4:15 pm

    Reblogged this on ROBWAVES TECHNOLOGIES and commented:
    We need to resolve historical land injustice


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