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Kenya: Protests Against World Bank-Driven Land Reforms

by Judith Achieng'Inter Press Service
December 7th, 2000

NAIROBI -- Kenyan human rights activists are adding their voices to those already opposed to the World Bank driven land reforms, which they say, seek to make land "just another commodity" to be subjected to the whims of market forces, at the expense of millions of landless peasants.

"What we are discovering is that the World Bank is sponsoring land reforms but they are actually releasing land to the market place, making it even more inaccessible for poor landless people," says Lumumba Odenda, co-ordinator of Kenya Land Alliance.

The Kenya Land Alliance, a network of non-governmental organisations and individuals advocating fair land distribution and policy reforms, argues that result of the ongoing reforms in many developing countries could be disastrous, with potential of increased number of destitute perched in marginal areas in cities.

"We can't reduce poverty if the majority of the landless can't afford to buy land," he adds.

Odenda argues that such an arrangement is impossible with the diminishing labour market in developing countries, and could only work if the countries already have industries large enough to absorb landless people.

"If we don't even have jobs people have to subsist on land, which the World Bank is now taking away from them. Even those employed are already being retrenched," he says.

Agriculture is the primary occupation, and source of subsistence for up to 75 percent of Kenyans. Land has, therefore, become the most sought after commodity, exposing it to speculation, which has pushed the price of land beyond ordinary people.

Furthermore the country still relies on land laws and policies established under the British colonial government, which in many cases prevented the most disadvantaged groups from getting the land they need to survive.

There also is increasing concern in Kenya over lack of clear planning policies that fit rural urban migrants into real estate, most of them perched up in crowded shanty dwellings on government land.

The government of President Daniel arap Moi however, seems unprepared to release the land to slum dwellers, a problem manifested in frequent violent clashes between them and private developers, officially allocated such land.

Only last week, scores were injured in violent clashes in the capital, between Muslim youths and hawkers at the "Fuata Nyayo" slums. A number of churches, an entertainment park and a mosque were also burnt in the violence.

The clashes started when Muslim leaders in the local mosque, who had acquired title to the disputed land for expansion, ordered the hawkers to move or risk being evicted.

Land problem in Kenya has also, since 1992, taken an ugly ethnic turn, in which at least 2, 000 people have been killed and thousands displaced from their homes.

Sometime last year, the International Peasant Movement La Via Campesina and the Human Rights Organisation FIAN International initiated a global campaign for agrarian reform, to implement the human rights obligation of the agrarian reform

The campaign was initiated in recognition of the human right to food, recognised under article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which stipulates that landless peasants and agricultural workers must gain access to those resources, mainly land, with which they can produce food.

Under this article, land reform is spelled out as one of the most important means of realising the right to food.

The World Bank has since the mid 1990s preached its "market- assisted land reform", a programme it aimed at addressing poor people's lack of productive assets, particularly land by providing efficiency and equity in redistribution of these assets in developing countries.

Human rights groups are, however, concerned that the programme does not guarantee the realisation of a comprehensive reform that would fulfil the right of poor peasant farmers to have access to land in unfair land distribution practices, especially in oligopolistic market environments controlled by cartels.

They cite examples ranging from Guatemala to Philippines in which the programmes are disappearing due to lack of resources. In countries like South Africa, the redistribution programme has partially turned into a programme for bailing out "highly indebted white farmers" off their marginal lands.

"By implementing this model, the bank is failing to realise its own Operational Directive on Poverty Reduction as well. This has been illustrated by the results of such programmes so far. There is no evidence that the reforms of land markets have, fundamentally, altered the patterns of land ownership," information sourced from Land alliance literature states.

"Firstly, the programmes aimed at helping people to buy land are primarily designed for those farmers who already have some production capacity and seem to be able to run an economically feasible project," it reads, "Less qualified families, despite being needier, are excluded from these programmes."

"Secondly, the small-holder beneficiaries are not able to generate enough income to repay their land purchase loans if the do not get adequate support."

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