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Last Updated: Saturday, 19 November 2005, 11:38 GMT
Kenya draft offers land shake-up
With Kenyans about to vote in a referendum on a new draft constitution, the BBC's Waihenya Kabiru looks at what the proposal has to say on the contentious issue of land.

People fleeing the clashes
Kenya's rival communities have often clashed over land
Kenyan officials would no longer be able to dish out land to cronies if the new draft constitution is approved in the 21 November referendum.

The constitution, if passed, would also bar foreigners from owning land, and reduce the term for which foreigners can lease land.

Supporters of the proposed new constitution say it deals comprehensively with the land issue, while opponents worry it may lead to people losing their land.

The issue of land has been an emotive and sometimes volatile issue in Kenya since independence in 1963, and has dominated political campaigns.

Kenya's Attorney General, Amos Wako, unveiling the proposed new constitution nearly three months ago, said he had captured all the proposals presented by various groups in the document he had drafted.

That document, commonly referred to as the Wako draft, includes six pages on land and property issues, classifying land as either public, private or community.

Women

The proposed constitution backs radical land reforms, including the formation of a land commission, as well as allowing women to inherit land.

It also says the land commission would take steps to redress human rights abuses on matters of land.

It would be unfair on the Maasai who have preserved their land for generations to share it out with the rest of Kenyans
MP Joseph Nkaissery

Lawyer Fred Ojiambo says the formation of a land commission is one of the positive aspects in the draft.

''This land commission takes away the issue of land from the powers of individuals such as the president or the commissioner of lands, and this means they can no longer dish out public land to gain favours,'' he adds.

Lands Minister Amos Kimunya - who supports the proposed constitution - says it addresses land injustices imposed on Kenyans by the colonial government.

He says foreigners would no longer be able to own land, and would only be given leases to do specific activities on the farms; long leases of nearly 1,000 years granted to foreigners will be reduced to 99 years.

Several ranches in the Rift Valley are owned by white settlers and their descendants, and they are the subject of bitter disputes with locals who want the land to revert to them.

The minister adds that the government will use this new provision to sort out the issue of absentee landlords on the coast who do not utilise their land, and make claim to only it by virtue of holding title deeds.

In areas such as Laikipia in central Rift Valley, people who hold long leases issued by the colonial government would have those reviewed and the land could revert to the state.

This has led to fears that individuals who own land may lose it to the government as it redistributes it to the landless and squatters.

Nomads' fears

Opponents of the proposed constitution, who include the nomadic Maasai, are particularly alarmed by the legal provision in the proposed constitution which gives the land commission powers to seize idle land and distribute it to the landless and to squatters.

Joseph Nkaissery, a Maasai MP from the governing Narc coalition, is worried that Maasai communal land may be targeted for seizure.

Maasai with their cattle
The Maasai are campaigning for their land to be returned
''It would be unfair on the Maasai who have preserved their land for generations to share it out with the rest of Kenyans,'' he says.

The draft law also proposes the establishment of a human rights commission, which would among other things resettle victims of ethnic clashes in the country who lost their land more than a decade ago.

Koigi wa Wamwere, a Narc legislator from the Rift Valley and a vocal critic of the government for failing to resettle the victims, says this new provision would see thousands of victims of ethnic clashes resettled back to their farms.

During the first two multi-party elections in 1992 and 1997, nearly 2,000 people were killed in parts of the Rift Valley and Western provinces in politically motivated ethnic clashes.

A judicial commission of inquiry into the clashes which was appointed by the government of retired President Daniel arap Moi, recommended that all the victims be resettled.

For supporters of rival political groups on the proposed constitution, votes will be won or lost depending on the referendum depending on how people interpret the provisions of the draft law on land issues.

Communities in the vast Rift Valley worried about their land are expected to vote against the draft.




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