By NJERI KIMANI, published in MAIL & GUARDIAN AFRICA
When a senior government head attempted to grab several acres of land from Lang’ata Road Primary school in January 2015, he opened a Pandora’s box on an emotional issue that had been ailing the education system. The school, located in the Western part of Nairobi, Kenya’s capital, is one of the oldest in the country. It is only a fifteen minutes drive from the Central Business District where property prices have been on the increase.
The school shares a wall with the Weston Hotel believed to be the property of the government official.
The official constructed a perimeter wall around the land – estimated to be worth more than USD 900 000 – launching a war between the school parents, students and teachers, who ganged up to protect the land.
They pulled down the perimeter wall during a teargas- filled battle with the police, who had been called to protect the land. In the months that followed, more and more schools broke their silence about the land- grabbing issue; they had previously refrained from addressing the issue due to threats and intimidation by politicians who are the main culprits of the illegal land transfer.
Demonstrations by Kenyans have led to several schools being saved: Lang’ata Road Primary School, Naka Primary School, St Catherine’s Primary School and Lavington Primary School.
Their efforts were also boosted by President Uhuru Kenyatta who, in a bid to curb the land grab in schools, in January 2015 issued a directive to the Ministry of land to issue title deeds to all learning institutions in the country.
The President also ordered that all school land ownership documents be processed and registered in the names of the school committees and management boards with immediate effect.
“I would like to urge the Members of Country Assembly (MCA) to be on the forefront in reclaiming any stolen land belonging to schools and report to any authority in your region. This will help in ensuring that the appropriate action can be taken while ensuring that justice has been done,” he added.
Government holding title deeds
According to the National Land Commission (NLC) chairman Muhammad Swazuri, the government already has 2 400 title deeds to be disbursed to the schools.
However, 29 000 schools are still at risk of being grabbed. Some of the major culprits are private developers who are assisted by public servants in acquiring parcels of school land.
Religious institutions and other citizens have also claimed ownership of entire parcels of land, or part thereof, and have secured court orders barring the schools from accessing the land.
Former President’s involvement
Only last week, former President Daniel Moi was linked to the illegal grabbing of 40 acres of land belonging to the United States International university- Africa (USIU), one of Kenya’s most prestigious and expensive international universities.
Houghton Irungu of the Shule Yetu Alliance claims that 5000 schools in the country have applied to the Ministry of Lands and the National Land Commission, seeking the title deeds for their property.
According to Irungu, 83% of Kenyan public schools do not have title deeds or lease certificates, 41% have no allotment letter and 55% of schools are yet to be surveyed. However, the high cost of having surveyors come out to the land for demarcation and to declare its value has forced many to retreat. “Most of them will require the Ministry of land to waive all fees and costs related to surveying before they can be issued with title deeds,” he added.
Furthermore, confusion over who owns the land and the acreage poses a big challenge for officials. Irungu cites poor school fencing as a major challenge as it is important to mark where the land ends.
In his report,”One year from Langata: Why public schools are still at risk,” Irungu claims that the safety of the school drives the need for the school administration to be able to control access plus maintain surveillance over the entire property.
“Defined perimeters also enable landscape maintenance, guard against theft of school property and abuse of minors by the wider population. Fencing is a deterrent against “private developers” or what one anti-corruption campaigner has called “the white collar thief who appropriates land against the public interest for exclusively private gain”. The report further states that “Only 1% of our schools are surrounded by permanent walls. 48% rely on barbed wire and another 21% on live fences or bush.”
In Nakuru, the case against the grabbing of a 20-acre piece of land is already in court.
Nakuru Town East Member of Parliament (MP) David Gikaria, the area MP, Flamingo MCA Moses Gichangi, and the school headmaster Francis Kihero were charged and accused of destroying the school property during the efforts to reclaim the stolen property.
“The land in question belongs to Naka Primary School and we have all the documents to prove that. We demolished the perimeter wall constructed by grabbers,” said the parliamentarian. Gikaria said the wall would not be rebuilt unless by the Naka School, saying that a similar style was used in the attempt to grab Lang’ata Primary.
“I don’t fear being arrested or even jailed with my co-accused. I must protect my poor electorate from being exploited by private developers”.
He said they have collected 10 000 signatures and are collecting more to table a petition in parliament to access the documents through which ownership was illegally transferred from the school.
“The land was allocated to Naka Primary but we don’t understand how the documents were interfered with and landed in the hands of private developers in the name of ENSE Limited,” added Gikaria.
A recent Real Estate land prices survey revealed that land has been among the fastest appreciating commodities in Kenya. The survey pointed out that the scarcity of land in urban towns and cities is fuelling illegal acquisition of public land in general, and public schools in particular, for residential and commercial investment. It further states that several parts of Nairobi, the capital city in which Lang’ata Primary School is located, has seen a 600% increase in land value over the last eight years.
Irungu challenged the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development to issue lease-certificates to the 2,400 schools that have already been surveyed as an urgent means to protect them from grabbing.
“I would also urge the Cabinet to fast-track the approval, the waiving of survey fees and all other costs for the 5,000 other schools who have already applied for assistance to determine school boundaries. In addition, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology should encourage all remaining schools to apply for title deeds” he added.
Irungu also challenged the 47 County Governments to urgently complete their audits on all the public schools and other public utilities and, where appropriate, issue lease-certificates.