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"Public land-grabbing menace can be tamed"
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"Public land-grabbing menace can be tamed"

Judith Akoth picShocking cases of public land-grabbing are one just aspect of corruption, writes Judith Akoth, 23, a Correspondent from Kisumu in Kenya, who says courts and the media offer means of countering the problem.

Land is one of the basic natural resources that we have and its value appreciates over time. Due to this lucrative factor, it is every person’s desire to own a piece. However, land is limited and thus not every individual’s ownership needs and desires can be met.

For this reason, land has contributed to conflict in Africa and various parts of the world. A case example is Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe reclaimed all the land owned by white immigrants and gave it to the natives. In Kenya, apart from conflicts arising from ethnic affiliations and terrorism, there have been increasing cases of land conflicts.

In the recent past, an alleged case of land grabbing that shocked many was brought to the attention of the public by the media. The playground of a public school was secretly fenced off by a private investor while the pupils were on holiday. In their defense, the private investors claimed they acquired the land through a ‘willing seller and willing buyer’ process. This raised a public uproar, and soon activists and the students mobilized themselves to reclaim what rightfully belongs to them.

Soon after, other public schools and higher institutions of learning emerged for the first time to reclaim their land, and their numbers have continued to rise. Fortunately, most of the schools have been able to fully reclaim their land as others wait for a verdict from the courts, hoping justice will be served.

Due to its scarcity, land in Kenya has become a valuable gem in the eyes of greedy individuals who at any given opportunity will pounce on it for their own personal interests. This leads to corrupt activities. Most of our land conflicts are attributed to historical injustices, however it is hard to fail to notice the role corruption plays. Corruption is a major challenge which creates a chain that increases the gap between the poor and the rich, thus dwindling the economy.

It starts with an innocent bribe a parent gives to a child to get a task done at home. It goes to bribing traffic police to keep unworthy vehicles on the road, then to grand corruption practiced by the elite and powerful political leaders in government. Our system is so corrupt that according to the Corruption Perceptions Index 2014 by Transparency International, Kenya ranked position 145 out of the 175 countries, a true manifestation of our public sector’s corruption level.

Fortunately, corruption can be dealt with, and we can learn a lot from the above school’s playground land grabbing experience. Firstly, to beat corruption and avoid future public land grabbing – and bring the present land grabbers to justice – we must uphold our constitution at all costs. Protecting human rights as enshrined in the constitution serves as one of the first steps to a corruption-free country. Citizens are empowered to fight corruption through freedom of expression and association, amongst others. The constitution also demands transparency and accountability in conducting government businesses. It gives the National Land Commission a responsibility to be transparent in land administration, management and conflicts, thus minimizing fraudulent acquisition of public land.

Freedom of the media is also vital in the fight against corruption. It is critical because it sets the agenda, enlightens and educates the public on daily happenings. In this regard members of society can make informed decisions, especially those that appertain to their welfare, to condemn and reject corruption in all levels. Through broadcasting of such corruption stories, relevant authorities also get to know of the cases and respond appropriately.

The courts have their roles to play, too. Perpetrators of public land grabbing should be brought to book as a means of discouraging others from committing such crimes. Prosecution will also instill credibility in our court system.

Another way of taming corruption in public land grabbing is by amending land policies presently in use. Suitable recommendations can be obtained from documents such as the Ndung’u land report, which advocates for the recovery of public land acquired through illegal allocations. The recommendations can also help in providing prudent solutions to land conflicts in the country.

Lastly, the government needs to give tooth to institutions created to fight corruption, in this case the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission. Providing resources, support and ensuring independence of such offices will surely help solve corruption cases in the country.

As the adage “Rome was not built in a day” goes, I have not given up on the government and its citizens’ efforts to fight corruption. The ability of young minds to discern corruption and condemn it gives hope for our future generations that corruption can be tamed.

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About me:

I am a confident and articulate graduate who enjoys engagement in journalism clubs and associations.  Young yet mature; I am interested in inculcating my skills in conflict management in regards to politics, ethnic and religious inspired conflicts.

I believe our future generations have a right to live in a peaceful environment that allows for holistic development. Currently I am a blogger and a volunteer at Community Based Organisations.

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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