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Land, Power Projects and Community Engagement
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By Kevin M. Doyle and Anastasia Ngatti

Land tenure insecurity and historical injustices on land emerge as a leading source of community grievances against proposed power and other development projects in Kenya, according to research conducted for the development of Power Africa’s recently published Guide to Community Engagement for Power Projects in Kenya.

Land in Kenya, like in most countries throughout Africa and the developing world, is critical to the economic, social, and cultural development of the country. Land ownership in Kenya is by far one of the most emotive and political issues, making land acquisition an extremely sensitive and challenging process. Land ownership inequalities were at the center of the country’s struggle for independence, and were reportedly a key contributor to the post-election violence in 2007-08 and are likely a contributing factor to ongoing ethnic tensions.

Power projects in Kenya, particularly those requiring new transmission lines, typically require a substantial amount of land. One wind generation project, the Lake Turkana Wind Project, required 40,000 acres (162km²) for the 310 MW wind farm and its buffer zone, plus a swath of land approximately 430km long by 80m wide for the transmission line.

It is not surprising, therefore, that land-related issues are the biggest source of community grievances against development projects. These grievances arise mainly from issues of land ownership and tenure disputes, historical injustices, and involuntary resettlement. Project acceptance may also be affected by grievances on the siting of proposed project footprints, the size of the land to be acquired and foregone future development rights on the impacted land. Other areas of frequent contention are benefit-sharing of profits and compensation packages from compulsory acquisition.

A community’s relationship with the land and land-based resources is, therefore, critical for a developer to understand when seeking their buy-in or “no objection” to a proposed development.

Lending further complexity to land-related issues in Kenya is the fact that despite a constitutional guarantee to equality, women may have limited rights to land ownership, even when they hold titles, due to customary law and practices. Developers therefore must also be cognizant of women’s rights in relation to land to ensure that their rights are upheld and protected. Assessing land users’ rights should not be limited to ownership, but should encompass land uses and socio-cultural values attached to the land.

Often, developers tend to only consider the letter of the law when it comes to land acquisition, while a community may not be so interested in who may hold the title deed for a property because they are more tuned to their historical/customary relationship to the land. Customary procedures in inheritance of land are still observed even in areas with registered land, and updating of land ownership instruments is not always adhered to or is accessible politically and/or financially.

For these reasons, robust community engagement, inclusive of sociological and even anthropological perspectives, is critical to ensure accuracy and transparency in the land acquisition component of a project. This kind of community engagement is also essential to ensure fairness in compensation and other benefits shared with affected communities, and to understand, manage and resolve community grievances throughout the project cycle, from the determining project viability stage through to financial close, construction and operation.

Kevin Doyle is a Community Engagement Advisor for the Power Africa Transactions & Reform Program in Kenya.

Anastasia Ngatti is a social environmentalist at Gibb Africa Ltd. based in Kenya.

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