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

Kenyan women harvest maize in Kenya, Oct. 9, 2008. VOA

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)

Next Story

Nairobi Hosts International Conference on Population and Development

“I think we can all agree that ICPD was a turning point, a defining moment in our history," Crown Princess Mary said

Nairobi, International, Conference
Denmark's Minister for Development Cooperation Rasmus Prehn, left, Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, center, and Kenya's President Uhuru Kenyatta, right, attend the International Conference on Population and Development summit in Nairobi, Nov. 12, 2019. VOA

Kenya is hosting a United Nations-coordinated conference on population and development this week in Nairobi.  Over 6,000 delegates from 160 nations, including heads of state, are attending the three-day forum to discuss reproductive health rights, ending gender-based violence, and sustainable development.

The U.N.’s International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) opened Tuesday with repeated vows made at the first summit in Cairo, twenty-five years ago.

Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, a co-host of the conference, underscored the significance of the summit.

“I think we can all agree that ICPD was a turning point, a defining moment in our history,” Crown Princess Mary said.  “In Cairo, the world articulated a bold new vision about the relationship between population, development and individual well-being and the empowering of women and meeting people’s needs for education and health, including sexual and reproductive health, are necessary for both individual advancement and balanced development.”

Nairobi, International, Conference
The U.N.’s International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) opened Tuesday with repeated vows made at the first summit in Cairo, twenty-five years ago. Pixabay

The summit aims to examine the progress made since a 1994 Program of Action drafted in Cairo.

More than 150 countries signed on to the plan, which placed women’s empowerment, individual dignity and human rights, and the right to plan one’s family at the heart of development.

In Nairobi Tuesday, heads of state stressed their countries’ policies and commitments to gender equality, sexual and reproductive health.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged to end female genital mutilation (FGM) by 2022.

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Kenyatta was among African leaders who called also for ending child marriage.

“I believe that we can all commit to eliminate child marriages.  The percentage of young women between 20 and 24 years of age who are married before their 18th birthday has declined from 34 percent in 1994 to 25 percent in 2019,” said Kenyatta. “But the absolute number of girls under 18 who are at risk of child marriage is estimated at 10.3 million in 2019.”

Child marriage and sexual and reproductive healthcare are controversial issues in African nations where traditional cultures often clash with campaigns for individual rights.

In some countries like Kenya, laws that limit access to abortion services have fueled unsafe, often deadly, back-street abortions.


Nairobi, International, Conference
In Cairo, the world articulated a bold new vision about the relationship between population, development and individual well-being. Pixabay

At the conference Tuesday, the U.N.’s Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed tied women’s rights squarely to development.

“The power to choose the number, timing and spacing of children is a human right that can bolster well-being, economic and social development.  And when people can exercise their rights, they thrive,” said Mohammed. “And they do and, so do societies at large.”

To reach those goals, the Nairobi Conference on Population and Development is expected to produce pledges of financial support.

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But it will take more than money and talk to see some African nations enforce laws and regulations on gender equality and sexual and reproductive health. (VOA)