Ever since this newspaper hit the streets some seven months ago, our pages have been inundated with land fraud matters, including in this issue. The courts, obviously, are overwhelmed. Clearly, the problem is snowballing and calls for a political and administrative solution.
The county government cannot afford to fold its arms and become a spectator as people are dispossessed, the law is circumvented or ignored, and it becomes a free-for-all as the law of the jungle takes over.
As the city of Nairobi grows and land becomes prohibitively expensive for most people, the pressure on land has moved to surrounding counties. Land in Kiambu County and areas nearer the city is already unaffordable, and an increasing number of homeowners are seeking to move further afield, including settling deep inside Kajiado County.
This explosion of interest has led to both positive and undesirable outcomes. On the one hand, the value of land owned by locals has skyrocketed, enabling them to obtain credit from financial institutions for income-generating projects. On the other hand, this has led to land agents and speculators flooding the county — many of them unscrupulous persons of doubtful integrity — leading to numerous cases of fraud.
It is unfortunate that the much-talked-about digitization of land records is yet to have any real effect. Corrupt staff in land registries are easily compromised to issue false search certificates or effect unwarranted changes in official records. It is not unheard of for such officials to issue duplicate title deeds that are later challenged in court.
But the rot is not only at the ministry level. Changes that dispossess communities of their land are often effected with the connivance of elected but unethical representatives of group ranches. It behoves members of these group ranches and other jointly-owned parcels of land, therefore, to elect officials whose ethical standards are above board.
It does not help matters that a large proportion of the population in arid and semi-arid areas such as Kajiado is functionally illiterate. They can easily be swayed by smooth-talking conmen out to swindle them of their land. Quite often, these conmen represent the better-educated, young, and well-groomed lot within the community, and are thus easily trusted by their victims.
But the county government has a responsibility to ensure that the original owners of the various land holdings are not fraudulently dispossessed and rendered destitute. The county administration can set up systems that ensure accountability before any land transactions and approvals are granted.
For this kind of oversight to be exercised, the county must itself ensure that its officers are of a high moral fibre, incorruptible, and ideologically sound. Only then would they be expected not to collude with criminal cartels in the property sector and to actually stop the rot.
That leadership must come from the top. Governor Joseph ole Lenku has shown strong resolve in advocating for the community’s interests, including in his wars with such giants as Tata Chemicals Magadi Ltd. He must not wait until the people who voted him to power become hungry and destitute, having lost their land in various nefarious schemes by unscrupulous persons. The time to act is now.