By OLIVE BURROWS, published in CAPITAL NEWS
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 18 – A year ago, images of green-clad primary school pupils holding up placards and branches, pushing down a perimeter wall as police dogs strained against their leashes and eventually fleeing from teargas, attracted widespread condemnation.
It was the #OccupyPlayground demonstration against the alleged grabbing of two acres of land from the Lang’ata Road Primary School.
Later, accusations were traded over who between ineffectual state agencies and the protest organisers were to blame for putting the dozens of children in harms way but it was widely agreed that children should never again be put in such a position.
As a safeguard, President Uhuru Kenyatta tasked the National Land Commission and Ministry of Land with ensuring all public school land is protected from grabbing.
In that effort, the NLC together with the Ministry embarked on arming all of Kenya’s 29,000-plus public schools with title deeds.
A year after #OccupyPlayground, NLC Land Administration Officer Odima Otieno said they were up to 1,000 title deeds issued and 1,400 more to be issued by end of January.
“That will mark the end of the first phase; land whose ownership is not contested and has been surveyed,” he explained.
Otieno described the leasing process as fairly straight forward except in cases where individuals and not institutions were listed in land records. “This mainly affects schools in rural areas where individuals donated their land for the construction of school amenities in the 60s and 70s but ownership did not change hands then decades later their descendants seek to reclaim the land.”
While acknowledging the steps taken by the State to avoid a recurrence of #OccupyPlayground, those who helped organise the demonstration want the pace picked up.
“Something like 83 percent of our schools remain untitled and unprotected from grabbing. Four thousand one hundred schools continue to have complaints of encroachment by private developers and our schools continue to be the scene of a very intense scramble for public land,” Irungu Houghton, who was among activists arrested during #OccupyPlayground, said on Monday.
He spoke at the launch of a report on the status of public school land in Kenya titled: One year on from Lang’ata, why public schools are still at risk.
The Shule Yangu Alliance report, compiled from interviews with 3,400 head teachers in 2015, recommends the creation of a rapid results taskforce to hasten the processing of title deeds for all public schools.
“As a consequence of highly speculative prices and demand for housing, public spaces in Kenya are increasingly vulnerable to illegal acquisition or encroachment,” the report, which pegs the current price of an acre of land in Upper Hill at 470 million, states.
The erection of something as simple as fences, it contends, would also go a long way in ensuring #OccupyPlayground remains firmly in the past. “Only one percent of our schools are surrounded by permanent walls.”