Land issues that just won’t go away

With only days to the constitutional referendum in Kenya, the issue of land - ownership, quantity and usage - remains the most controversial, with proponents and opponents suggesting different interpretations of land rights detailed in the draft.

"For us who have lived on government trust land all our lives, the same way our fathers and grandfathers did, some of us hope the draft will help us claim what is rightfully ours," Daniel Sambrumo, chairman of a group of 2,750 people evicted from a nearby forest in Trans Nzoia West District in western Kenya, told IRIN on 29 July.

"At the same time, we hear that the same draft may mean that we remain squatters if our claim to the land is rejected by the authorities. So many of us are caught in between, do we reject it or accept it? What we know is we need land for our livelihood and to leave to our children; this area is our ancestral land, we have nowhere to go."

Sambrumo, a member of the ethnic Sabaot group, whose two main clans (Soi and Ndorobo) have been engaged in a prolonged land wrangle in neighbouring Mt Elgon district, said many people in Trans Nzoia and Mt Elgon did not have title deeds, complicating the resolution of land ownership disputes.

"The majority of the people evicted from the forest ended up at this school [Teldet Primary School in Kissawai location, Saboti Division] because they had nowhere to go; now we are approaching the day to vote on the referendum yet so far nobody has clarified what we are entitled to as forest evictees," he said. "We are not classified as IDPs [internally displaced persons] because we were removed from government land, hence the term forest evictees. We are like the people evicted from Mau forest and Embobut forest but then all of us are Kenyans, we are entitled to the land our ancestors lived on."

Impact of post-election violence in 2007-2008
At least 300,000 displaced from their homes
At least 1,100 killed, mostly by security forces
An estimated 3,000 rapes committed
Property destroyed both in urban and rural areas
Food productivity affected, especially in Western and Rift Valley
National accord signed in February 2008 to form coalition government

Adson Ndiema Cheseret, also a forest evictee, said voting for or against the constitution would be meaningless as long as some Kenyans continued to remain landless yet the government could resettle them.

"Look at me, I am now 86 years old, the government has been moving me and my family from place to place saying we were occupying government land, finally I have ended up in this camp. Is this the life they want me to lead? I will vote but I need to know that I can live on land that I can be buried in; land that my children and grandchildren can call their own,” he said.

“My plea to the government is to settle all squatters including those like us who were thrown out of the forest we have known all our lives."