Conflicts over land are central to Kenya's political economy. In particular, the displacement of indigenous inhabitants during the process of establishing settler agriculture and the association of dispossession and land claims with particular ethnic groups has continued to fuel conflict and drive government attempts to develop appropriate policies and legislation. Colonial attempts to resolve the problems of overcrowding in 'native reserves' led to a land tenure system based on freehold title, even for African farmers. The concepts of individual title and a commercial land market have, therefore, been embedded in the consciousness of black Kenyans from before independence. In many urban centres, the laws on tenure and subdivision and the prevalence of private ownership have given rise to extreme shortages of land for low-income residential development and conflict over access to undeveloped land. The situation in Eldoret is different. Even though the town is located in the centre of a former settler agricultural area, plentiful supplies of plots for middle- and low-income housing are provided through informal subdivision, and relations between the government agencies responsible for regulating land and informal subdividers are generally good, even though many of the former disapprove of the activities of the latter. Some areas have been regularised and even in those that have not, most plot owners enjoy relative security of tenure. The paper describes the processes at work, examines the extent and nature of non-compliance, analyses the responses of local government and explains why relations between the social actors involved are generally accommodating rather than conflictual.
International Development Planning Review (2006) 28 (2) 235-61[doi: 10.3828/idpr.28.2.6]