"It is the responsibility of every Kenyan to jealously guard public land because the consequences of not doing that are dire"
By Katy Migiro
NAIROBI, Nov 29 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As Kenya counts down to elections in 2017, public schools and hospitals should map their boundaries, fence them and get title deeds to protect them from irregular acquisition by politicians seeking re-election, experts and campaigners said on Tuesday.
Vast tracts of public land, such as forests, playgrounds and prisons, were given to politically powerful individuals during the 1990s, government reports show, so as to raise campaign finance and buy the loyalty of influential officials.
"We have advised (all government institutions) that they should get titles for their land and they must also fence it physically," said Rose Musyoka, a commissioner with the National Land Commission (NLC), an independent government body set up in 2012 to manage public land and investigate past injustices.
"It is the responsibility of every Kenyan to jealously guard public land because the consequences of not doing that are dire."
Kenya's 2010 constitution reduced the power of the president and the lands ministry to allocate public land, and devolved power to 47 new county governments.
"Land grabs, which used to happen from Nairobi, now have been devolved to the counties," NLC commissioner Abdulkadir Khalif told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of a conference to discussion the protection of public land.
"Campaigns are a very expensive exercise in Kenya and the quickest way to collect big money is through the sale of land."
President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto are seeking re-election in August 2017, when Kenyans will also choose the parliament and county governors, amid frequent reports of graft in government.
Despite pledges four years ago to crack down on corruption, critics and opponents say the government has been slow to pursue top officials, adding that only top convictions will break what they call a culture of impunity.
Public institutions are particularly vulnerable to irregular acquisition of their land because most do not have title deeds.
Some 7,000 out of Kenya's 29,000 public schools have applied for title deeds following an outcry last year over the teargassing of students protesting against a wall built around their playground by a private developer.
Only 700 of the schools have since received titles, Irungu Houghton, a campaigner with the Shule Yangu Alliance - Swahili for My School Alliance - said.
"We should be vigilant as a country," he said.
"We have to find ways of ensuring that we do not see the economics of patronage and the economics of land acquisition become part of the campaigning season."
(Reporting by Katy Migiro @katymigiro; Editing by Katie Nguyen.; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories.)
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