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The term of the commissioners of the National Lands Commission expires next month and it is pertinent to look back and assess their performance. NLC is a creation of the Constitution. It is charged with land management and administration while the Ministry of Lands is responsible for policy formulation. To guarantee its success, NLC is an independent constitutional office out of the ambit of the political establishment.

The creation of NLC was necessitated by the fact that land management has been messy since independence. It was intended to correct the historical indiscretions and regularise land management. The question, therefore, is, has the commission discharged its mandate effectively?

Land was at the centre of the fight for political independence. Kenyans had been robbed of their land by the white colonialists and turned into squatters and paupers in their own country. Yet, after independence, and except for a few initiatives, the land question was never comprehensively resolved. Subsequent administrations used land as a political tool, dishing out tracts to loyalists besides appropriating titles meant for the public unto themselves. Political violence in many parts of the country revolve around land ownership.

NLC was obligated to correct such anomalies.


During the first term, the commission had to deal with the challenges that normally afflict pioneers — absence of structures and system for operation, identifying tasks and laying ground for their execution. Resistance and rivalry are inevitable.

Major land reform initiatives have been undertaken in the past few years. One is the drive to digitise the lands records and management system, a task jointly undertaken with the Lands ministry. Illegally issued titles have been recovered and the land repossessed for public use — the latest case being parcels along the Mama Ngina public beach in Mombasa. Many landless people have been resettled and issued with title deeds.

Notwithstanding these, NLC has come out as a combative outfit engaging in unnecessarily turf wars at the expense of service delivery. Chairman Mohamed Swazuri’s perennial fights with top Lands ministry officials go beyond asserting the NLC’s authority.

But what stands out as a sore thumb is the way NLC handled compensation of landowners during construction of the standard gauge railway (SGR). Compensation under phase one was marred with irregularities, for which top NLC officials have been charged in court. A row is brewing between NLC and Kenya Railways over compensation for lands for the second phase to Naivasha.

The six years which the NLC team has been in office may be relatively short but the point is, it has not lived up to expectations.