The titling of 1,000 Kenyan public schools on 12th May 2017 at Moi Girls High School, Eldoret, Uasin Gishu County was a historic moment for schools, communities and public land defenders. In Uasin Gishu County alone, 200 public schools received their land titles. 800 other schools from 15 other counties also received their titles. The ceremony is not only the first demonstrable expression of the Government’s commitment to protecting schools but it was a clear message to plunderers and thieves of public school land, that their days are numbered.
Under Article 62, the protection of public school land is underpinned in the Kenyan Constitution. Public land and specifically public school land underpins the fundamental right of children to education and the right to play and realisation of the Children’s Act (2001) and the Basic Education Act (2013).
Ironically, it is in the early years of the Kenyan Constitution that public school land has faced the greatest risk. By September 2016, 4,100 cases of public school land grabbing and contestation had been reported to the National Lands Commission. Research conducted by ShuleYangu Alliance identified that out of the 29,404 public schools in Kenya, 83% (24,405) did not have lease certificates and 55% (16,172) were not surveyed, 41% (12,055) were at risk of encroachment and grabbing.
The call and campaign to protect public schools stem back to January 19th, 2015 when Lang’ata Road Public Primary school pupils and parents together with activists reclaimed the school’s playground that had been grabbed by private developers. The events of that day shifted the trajectory of protection of public school land in Kenya. The crimes of school land grabbers burst into the national conscience.
The citizens became energised and in the following days, schools begun reclaiming back their land.
Three days later, January 22nd, 2015, President Uhuru Kenyatta issued a directive to have all the 29,404 public schools in the country titled. A civic campaign was established to accelerate the protection and titling of 10,000 public schools including supporting communities to fence 5,000 schools.
The issuance of the 1000 titles is an important milestone for the campaign. Issuing 200 titles for schools in Uasin Gishu County alone has safeguarded 300 hectares of public school land. This probably conservatively translates to more than 240 million Kenya Shillings.
Children in these schools can now freely enjoy their right to education, play and leisure without looming fear that their schools are at risk. Speaking at the ceremony, 14-year-old Uasin Gishu County Child President Uzoamaka Fidelia said, “We as Kenyan children can now concentrate on learning and not live in uncertainty on whether our schools will be grabbed.”
Children can now enjoy their playing fields without fear that someone will sneak in overnight or over the school holiday and put up a perimeter wall lined with hired gangs. Headteachers and the Board of Management can now focus on fulfilling their core mandate to deliver quality education to the children and not court cases instituted by the land grabbers. The protection of public school land safeguards the future of our children and their children. We can leave them a dignified inheritance based on the national values of integrity and the bill of rights.
Much as we celebrate, challenges remain. Only 10% of the 10,000 schools that have applied received titles in Eldoret. We still have 4,100 cases before the National Lands Commission. Public schools such as Lang’ata Road Primary School in Nairobi, Naka Primary School in Nakuru and Mwamdudu Primary in Kwale are amongst 15 schools who have intractable cases in court. This is costing the school community high legal fees and mental anguish. Until public land defenders such as the “Naka 5” and Mwamdudu Primary School community leaders who have criminal and civil suits charged against them by the Land Grabbers are free, our schools will never be safe.
Parents, teachers, school alumni and citizens must not relent in the protection of public school land. The Kenyan Government must continue to accelerate the titling process until we have achieved universal titling for all public schools. The Government needs to protect public school land defenders. We need to squash this before this virus spreads to our East African neighbours. We must all pledge to be Public Land Defenders.