Kenya: Protests Against World Bank-Driven Land Reforms

Publisher Name: 
Inter Press Service

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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