Kenya's rapid urbanisation takes toll on Maasai communal land
01 August 2016, 14:02
Mombasa (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - It's
just before sunset, the time of day when Maasai herdsman Josphat
Ole Tonkei would have been counting his herd of cows after hours
in the grazing fields, a few years ago.
Today Tonkei must wait until darkness to perform the check.
The routes to grazing fields and water points have been blocked
and he has to take a long, alternative route to reach his
"Manyatta", or homestead, where he counts his herd.
An area that for years provided grazing ground for his cows
has been built over with commercial properties and gated
communities, leaving him and other herdsmen with no choice but
to walk long distances in search of pasture and water.
He is not sure how pastoralists' communal grazing land has
passed into the hands of private developers.
"We don't know who sells our land to private developers. We
only realise it has been sold when we see them erecting concrete
fences and putting up structures," Tonkei said.
Tonkei is among Maasai herdsmen reeling from the impact of
rapid urbanisation that is encroaching into the plains of
Kitengela town, around 30 km (18 miles) south of the capital
BALLOONING URBAN DEVELOPMENT
As in many other East African countries, the rapid growth of
urban areas has taken a toll on the ancestral lands of
pastoralists, where much of the new development is taking place.
Kenya has undergone unprecedented urban growth, which has
led to an increased demand for land, further exacerbated by a
growing middle class population.
At the time of independence, in 1964, about 8.5 percent of
Kenyans resided in urban areas, according to United Nations
data. This figure had risen to 16.7 percent by 1990 and by 2015,
one in four Kenyans lived in urban areas.
The U.N. projects that by 2030 almost a third of Kenyans
will live in urban areas, rising to 43.9 percent by 2050.
A push by middle class Kenyans to own property amid soaring
land prices has led financial institutions, developers and
speculators to target land in satellite towns around Nairobi,
In Kajiado County, where Tonkei lives, land has become a
contentious issue as fraudsters have duped thousands of buyers
into purchasing Maasai communal land, which is then converted
into private land, local people said.
The influx of outsiders and increase in buildings on land
that belongs to indigenous communities have caused tension with
the Maasai pastoralists, who say urbanisation has led to
evictions, forced displacement and increased violence.
Tonkei said land developers conspire with unscrupulous
Maasai elites and some politicians to convert communal land into
private land, aided by county land registry officials.
The land is divided into small portions, with some of it
sold on to people to develop residential and commercial
properties, and the rest held for the purpose of speculation.
"The conflict caused by urbanisation is not just because of
grazing for animals ... the most painful part is taking land
through fraud," said Letuati Nackson Ole Umash, chairman of
Lerelo Emaa, a community-based organisation that advocates for
the rights of Maasai.
Current models of urbanisation pay no attention to human
rights, resulting in gross inequalities, social exclusion and
violence, said Umash, adding that zoning should be compulsory to
ensure fields are reserved for grazing.
"If land developers do not factor in human rights, our way
of life will completely change as we may be forced to turn to
crop and other farming - a livelihood that will not be
sustainable for livestock farmers," he told the Thomson Reuters
LACK OF NATIONAL POLICY
According to Joan Kagwanja, chief at the Land Policy
Initiative of the African Union Commission (AUC), Kenya has been
operating without a national policy framework for urban
Land governance issues remain complex despite planning and
local government laws that guide urban planning and management
in Kenya, she said.
"These (laws) did not provide the appropriate framework and
guidelines to manage Kenyan's rapid urbanisation in a manner
that harnessed opportunities and managed the risks and
challenges of cities and towns," she said.
"What we need ... is to maximise benefits for the Maasai
community while mitigating the risks such as loss of their
culture, rights, and livelihoods and minimising the negative or
unintended consequences of urbanisation," she said.
Potential risks for communities in semi-urban and rural
areas near cities were often disregarded when weighing the pros
and cons of urbanisation, resulting in poorly conceived plans,
But there was some progress on land governance, she said,
citing the proposed National Urban Development Policy (NUDP) as
an example for a more holistic approach to planning that
includes participation of local communities.
The government also took action in April when Cabinet
Secretary for Land Jocob Kaimenyi dissolved land control boards
- which he said had been compromised by land developers - in a
bid to curb irregular land allocations and fraudulent sales.