By Mumina Bonaya
The Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor project involves a railway, highway, crude oil pipeline and a fibre-optic cable connecting Kenya to Ethiopia, South Sudan and Africa’s Great Lakes region.
Started six years ago, it is Kenya’s transformational and integrated infrastructure corridor that is also aimed at opening up the North.
It is firmly on course: one of its main components, Isiolo International Airport, is complete; the railway network that is to run from Lamu to Isiolo has begun, and the third of 32 berths at Lamu Port is slated for completion by mid 2022.
The railway network component of Lapsset is set to utilise chunks of community grazing lands in the counties of Isiolo, Garissa, Samburu and Turkana.
Despite its good intentions, Lapsset’s inception in the northern counties continues to fuel the drive for land acquisition, marked by a land-buying frenzy since 2012.
A substantial portion of land in and around Isiolo has been sold to savvy speculators, mostly from other parts of the country, who anticipate economic opportunities.
But this unprecedented rush for land threatens communal land management and, by extension, the pastoralists.
Communal land use is both an ecological necessity and an efficient means of using heterogeneous landscapes for sustainable pastoralism.
This has always enabled pastoralists to freely move with their herds to access nutritious pasture to cope with frequent droughts.
The historical boundary row between Isiolo and neighbouring counties like Meru and Garissa, particularly along where Lapsset is expected to pass, is increasingly fuelling conflict between pastoralists and farmers.
Left unresolved, the weak land governance and the overlap in territorial claims will compound the situation.
While the Community Land Act should govern communal land, enforcement of such laws to secure community land rights has been painfully slow and often manipulated.
Adjudication and registration is yet to be concluded and, as such, communities continue to lose their grazing land, thanks to demands from a speculative land acquisition frenzy.
This has fuelled fears of marginalisation and dispossession of locals of their customary land.
On the other hand, the level of preparedness by the national and county governments to address the implications of such a mega project on the local livelihoods and sociocultural fabric of local communities is dismally low.
On their own, locals lack the capacity to comprehend the fast-changing context, the impact of the shifting land use on pastoralism and the opportunities that such a project can afford them.
The criteria for assessing the value of compulsorily acquired community land for compensation is unknown.
Determined in other places by infrastructural amenities on the ground, the same cannot be applied as a fair formula for community land, especially if preserved as a grazing reserve — vast open spaces with multiple livelihood benefits.
There is, therefore, an urgent need to formalise communal land ownership, which has been brought into sharp focus by the great land rush and future possibilities of dispossessing communities of their lands.
Ms Bonaya is a drylands and climate change specialist based in Isiolo. firstname.lastname@example.org