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Strengthening the recognition of communal rights in Informal Settlements in Kenya

Informal settlements are residential areas where inhabitants have no security of tenure on the land or dwellings they inhabit, with modalities ranging from squatting to informal rental housing. In Kenya, 54.7% of the general population live in informal settlements. The growth of these settlements is brought about by rapid urban growth, rural to urban migration and lack of affordable housing for the urban population. Due to lack of tenure security, these settlements are often left out of planning programs, leading to general lack of basic infrastructure, especially sanitation, drainage, access to energy and clean water supply, resulting in poor social and environmental living conditions.

To address these challenges, the land question needs to be tackled. It entails understanding the continuum of land rights in informal settlements by looking into informal forms of tenure. The Government of Kenya has over the years conducted land reforms geared at improving land tenure security and land administration in the country. On 31st August 2016, the Community Land Act was assented to law by the President. The Act “provides for: the recognition, protection and registration of community land rights; management and administration of community land; and provides a clear role for county governments on all unregistered community land”. The act provided ground for communal ownership of land in the rural setting, but efforts have been taken to adopt the law in informal settlements in the urban setting.

Community and stakeholder engagement in Mabatini-Mathare in Nairobi, Kenya

In Phase 3 of its program, the GLTN embarked on pilot tests on use of the Community Land Act in informal settlements in Mombasa and Nairobi counties. In collaboration with Pamoja Trust, GLTN embarked on a project entitled “Promoting improvement of tenure security in select urban informal settlements through the pilot registration of community land rights,” that sought to promote the improvement of tenure security in select informal settlements. The four informal settlements selected for the pilot process were: Mabatini and Mashimoni settlements in Mathare Sub-County in Nairobi and Mnazi Moja and Kwa Bulo settlements in Nyali Sub- County in Mombasa, respectively.

A scoping and engagement on the provisions of the 2016 CLA was first conducted to identify key stakeholders with the power to help achieve the project goal. Through mapping of these stakeholders, Pamoja Trust was able to conduct consultations aiding in developing linkages for application in an informal settlement context. The project also involved capacity building of both the communities and the stakeholders involved. First, the communities in the informal settlements were sensitized on the CLA 2016, and how it could help improve their tenure security issues. Sensitization involved discussions on initiatives on the registration of community land rights through, but not limited to, the registration of the communities, establishment of community land management committees, community land registers. Communities in these informal settlements were fully involved in the project throughout as many men, women and youth were trained to take part in the process using GLTN tools.

From the data collected, a database of the residents was created, showing the tenure relationship between the people in the settlements and the land they occupied. Additionally, communities established bylaws which supported the creation of Community Land Management Committees and helped them decide how to share the land as a community through shared common interests. Through documentation of the process, Pamoja Trust developed an operational manual to guide in the registration of community land in informal settlements and a policy document on the same.

These pilot projects have made impressive strides towards pushing forth the recognition of registration of community land in the three informal settlements, creating a good baseline for the use of the Community Land Act in informal settlements. It is therefore imperative that through engagement with government stakeholders, buy in is cultivated on the use of the CLA in informal settlements to register their community land rights, paving the way for these communities to enjoy their rights as well as be involved in development and planning processes.

Capacity development session on the continuum of land rights