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Kenyan Women Step Up Fight for Land Destined for Coal Mine as 30,000 households likely to be affected

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Kenyan women harvest maize in Kenya, Oct. 9, 2008. VOA
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Africa, Jan 20, 2017: When the Kenyan government announced five years ago that coal deposits had been found in the Mui Basin, a land of rolling hills and pristine forests east of Nairobi, local farmers hoped the discovery would help transform their livelihoods.

But as villagers prepare to leave their loamy, fertile soils to make way for the multimillion-dollar mine and power station development, many households fear they will miss out on compensation because women do not have titles to their land.

Traditionally, Kenyan society is patriarchal and ownership and decisions on land management or disposal are made by men.

The villagers’ situation reflects the predicament of thousands of women throughout Kenya who head their households but are not named on land ownership documents.

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Around 30,000 households will be affected by the proposed coal mines in the Mui Basin, said Alex Nganga, leader in the local county assembly.

There are no definitive figures for how many local families are headed by women, but it is known that there are many.

“We were anticipating that women would be listed in title deeds as co-owners or joint owners of land,” said Kasyoka Malonza, a Mutito community representative in the Mui Basin.

“It’s unfortunate that we have not been recognized despite all our efforts,” she said.

A national problem

According to the Federation of Women Lawyers (FIDA), Kenya now has a raft of progressive laws aimed at ensuring gender equality but customary laws continue to limit women’s rights to land and property.

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The Land Registration Act, introduced in 2012, includes provisions for joint tenancy and gives wives a legal right to land that is held in the other spouse’s name where the woman has contributed either in financial terms or through her labor.

FIDA estimates that only five percent of all land title deeds are held jointly by women with men, and only one percent of land titles in Kenya are held by women alone.

This is despite figures that show that around 32 percent of households are headed by women and that they are responsible for nearly 90 percent of the farming work.

A report on gender issues and the effect of coal mining in the Mui Basin prepared last year with Canadian government support also highlighted the need to ensure fair compensation for land for women who live in polygamous households.

More power for Kenya

The coal-rich Mui Basin covers around 500 square km and is located around 270 km (170 miles) east of Nairobi. It has been divided into four sections for mining development.

A Chinese firm, Fenxi Mining Group, was given rights to develop half the area in 2011. Another Chinese company, HCIG Energy Investment Company, with Liketh Investments Kenya Ltd won rights to develop the rest of the area and build a coal-fired plant in 2015.

The east African nation hopes that coal from the $2 billion power plant will not only help supply Kenya’s cement and steel industries, which import large volumes of coal, but also save on foreign exchange by cutting import costs. Surplus electricity will be sold into Kenya’s national grid.

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George Kariithi, director of the Great Lakes Corporation, a Kenyan partner of the Fenxi Mining Group, said the company could not comment on the issue of land compensation and ownership rights.

“We have left that for the government to handle,” he told Reuters.

A spokesman for the National Land Commission told Reuters that questions on land titles and the mining development must be referred to the Kitui County government.

But an official for the county said he could not comment, as it was a matter for the Land Commission.

Women fight back

Christine Kalikanda of the advocacy group Center for Human Rights and Civic Education (CHRCE) said the group was working in the Mui Basin as well as many other areas of Kenya to teach women how to ask for their property rights.

“We mobilize communities to voice issues collectively,” she said, adding that CHRCE has also developed guidelines to help villagers negotiate fair, market value compensation.

According to local residents, however, there has been very little interaction between the mining companies and local communities.

Activists say that the government itself has not been forthcoming either and communities still have no idea where churches, markets and water points are to be relocated.

Simon Mutui of the campaign group Kenya NGO Council said widows and single parents are particularly worried, as they have no legal claim to their land at all.

“Children born out of wedlock stay with their maternal extended families but have no claim to land, as their mothers lack inheritance rights, they have no claim to compensation,” he said.

For Mutito community representative Malonza, the answer lies with the Kenyan government.

“It should guarantee women’s rights both for ownership and the equitable division of assets,” she said. “We want to see that even women in polygamous families get an equal share.”-(VOA)

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Girls In Kenya Use Vapor Technology To Quench Their Thirsts

Community members, having seen the devices in use at the school, hope to acquire some of their own if they can find the funding.

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Kenya, girls
Turkana people carry water near Lodwar, in Turkana County, Kenya. VOA

In this arid part of northern Kenya, water can be hard to find, particularly in the dry season.

But a center run by the Samburu Girls Foundation – which rescues girls facing early marriage and female genital mutilation – has a new high-tech source of it.

Since June, the center, which has rescued more than 1,200 girls, has used panels that catch water vapor in the air and condense it to supply their drinking water.

“We used to have difficulties in accessing water and during a drought we could either go to the river to fetch water or ask our neighbors to give us water,” said Jecinta Lerle, a pupil and vice president of students at the center’s school.

water, girls
The Skysource/Skywater Alliance co-founders David Hertz, right, and his wife Laura Doss-Hertz demonstrate how the Skywater 300 turns air into water, in Los Angeles. VOA

But now, officials at the school say, the girls no longer have to travel for water – including into communities they have left, which could put them at risk.

“The girls can now have more time to study since there is enough fresh water to go round and there is no need to walk long distances to search for water,” said Lotan Salapei, the foundation’s head of partnerships.

Girls formerly trekked up to five kilometers a day in search of clean water during particularly dry periods, sometimes bringing them into contact with members of their former community, Salapei said.

The center, given 40 of the water vapor-condensing panels by the company that builds them, now creates about 400 liters of clean water each day, enough to provide all the drinking water the center needs.

Girls in Kenya
A girl at the Samburu Girls Foundation center in Loosuk, Kenya, drinks from a fountain that draws its water from solar-powered panels that condense water vapor from the air. VOA

The “hydropanels,” produced by U.S.-based technology company Zero Mass Water, pull water vapor from the air and condense it into a reservoir.

Cody Friesen, Zero Mass Water’s founder and chief executive officer, said the company’s project with the Samburu Girls Foundation was an example of its efforts to make sure the technology “is accessible to people across the socioeconomic spectrum.”

The panels provided to the Samburu Girls Foundation cost about $1,500 each, foundation officials said.

Zero Mass Water has so far sold or donated the panels in 16 countries, including South Africa.

Hydropanels, girls
The “hydropanels,” produced by U.S.-based technology company Zero Mass Water.

Saving trees

George Sirro, a solar engineer with Solatrend Ltd., a Nairobi-based solar equipment company, said such devices can be a huge help not only to people but in slowing deforestation that is driving climate change and worsening drought in Kenya.

Often people with inadequate water cut trees to boil the water they do find to make it safe, he said, driving deforestation.

Also Read: California Couple Develops Way That Allows To Make Water From Air

Philip Lerno a senior chief in Loosuk, where the girls’ foundation is located, said he hopes to see the panels more widely used in the surrounding community, which usually experiences long dry periods each year.

He said community members, having seen the devices in use at the school, hope to acquire some of their own if they can find the funding. (VOA)