By Duncan Mboyah

 A rare constitutional action in Kenya that created community lands and allowed indigenous communities to own land and become members of the land committee management has lit up Masaai women’s faces and ushered in a brighter future.

The enactment of the Community Land Act in 2016 in Kenya marked a significant milestone in the pursuit of tenure security for Kenya’s indigenous communities, the Masaai included.

This Act gives effect to Article 63 (5) of the Constitution; to provide for the recognition, protection and registration of community land rights; management and administration of community land; to provide for the role of county governments in relation to unregistered community land and for connected purposes.

Nguyai Letmalen, 50, is a happy woman and she cannot hide her happiness as she narrates how she became a landowner, an achievement that her mother and peers of her mother did not achieve.

Letmalen is elated because it has been a traditional norm that female members of the Masaai community, spread across Kenya and Tanzania, do not inherit land from their parents and husbands.

But courtesy of the introduction of community land in Kenya, Letmalen is not only a land owner today but also one of the 15 committee members of the 1,000-acre Maiyanat community land in Laikipia County in Central Kenya.

“I am so happy because this achievement opens opportunities for me and my daughters,” Letmalen says, adding that besides providing her with an opportunity to work on her land, it also enables her to use it as collateral to acquire loans for personal growth.

Letmalen is one of the five (5) women out of the 15 members who are also serving in the Maiyanat land management committee.

This historical transition was supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the European Union (EU) as a way of helping improve food and nutrition security through equitable and secure access and management of land for better livelihoods and socio-economic development in Kenya as per the vision 2030.

Husna Mbarak, team lead in charge of Governance of Land, Environment and Natural Resources, Gender and Indigenous People at FAO

Husna Mbarak, team lead in charge of Governance of Land, Environment and Natural Resources, Gender and Indigenous People at FAO says that gender discrimination and inequality in agriculture are to blame for Kenya’s food shortages.

Mbarak notes that traditional and customary beliefs had contributed to the social exclusion of women in land ownership rights amongst indigenous and pastoralist communities hence restricting their access to land use.

She says that indigenous people, especially women, have experienced subjugation, marginalization, dispossession, exclusion and discrimination in the past.

The UN official notes that FAO is aiding Kenya in her efforts to help integrate indigenous communities and pastoralists into normative lifestyles whereby they are allowed to self-determine their future in matters of land.

According to Mary Wandia, deputy director of Research at the National Land Commission (NLC), the enactment rekindled these communities’ hopes that their constitutional rights to secure land tenure could be realized.

Wandia notes that as it goes without saying, this transformative legislation empowers indigenous and local communities by redefining leadership structures and ushering in a new radical dispensation amongst them concerning land ownership, something that these communities never thought could happen in their lifetime.

“The Act ensures accountability between community leaders and community members and facilitates meaningful engagement of all community members in land governance through the establishment of community assemblies and other progressive provisions,” Wandia reveals.

Janet Larpei is also a beneficiary as she is a committee member of Musul Community land in Laikipia.

“We as women, we are so happy that now the community is recognizing us and even giving us a role in the society as leaders to serve in the community land committee,” Larpei says.

She observes that her fellow women folk are too excited since they have also been allowed to own land.

She notes that the opportunity allows them, especially single women, to own land and do business with the piece of land under their name.

According to the Community Land Act (CLA), Community Land Management Committees (CLMCs) must be formed with at least one-third of members being women and are to serve for three years then another election is held.

The Act amplifies a change in traditional trends on land matters, a role historically reserved for male elders.

Gachara Kitonga, deputy chairman of Maiyanat community land

Gachara Kitonga, deputy chairman of Maiyanat community land says that they have 2,808 members and continue to recruit additional members from community members that turn 18 years of age.

Kitonga reveals that all members of the Masaai community within the area are recruited without discrimination or irrespective of their gender as was in the past.

“Land ownership is today open to all genders except for our daughters whom we believe have a similar right where they are married,” Kitonga adds.

He says that members of the Maiyanat community have embarked on the restoration of the rangeland by conserving the environment, especially grass since they are no longer migrating with livestock in search of fodder.

This conservation, he says, will save livestock farmers from losing their stock during the prolonged drought that they have gone through in the past years.

He says that during the last drought, farmers drove their livestock to the shores of Mount Kenya but unfortunately lost many of them.

Kitonga adds that they plan to restore 200 hectares of land in 10 years since 70 percent of their land is degraded and requires a new lease of life to support livestock.

Joachim Kuraru, manager of the Maiyanat community land, 150 members are engaged as casuals in the conservation of the land daily.

Kuraru notes that all members are restricted to settling in certain parts of the block to allow grass to grow in reserved portions.

He adds that the new concept has helped reduce herder migration that often takes them as far as Tanzania as they leave their wives and children behind for several months.

Kuraru notes that besides the Masaai community losing fodder for grazing their livestock, they have also lost forests and trees hence the loss of their medicine.

He says that the cutting down of shrubs and trees had a terrible effect on the lives of livestock and people as they failed to secure medicine whenever it was needed urgently to save sick cows or human beings.

During the interview, it was visible that Letmalen and Larpei could not contain their excitement about being on the community land committee and having a rare right to own a parcel of titled land.

Like their mothers, they thought they would never own land throughout their lifetime but as fate has it, the government registered community lands hence giving them powers to belong in their communities.