Violent forced eviction is both traumatic and inhumane to the affected families

Land evictions evokes emotions of powerlessness, humiliation, and despair. Evictions are widespread in Kenya and in cases where the purported grabbers are issued with notice. The government or the bona fide owners of the land in question usually ignore court orders. The uncertainty around land ownership in Kenya is shrouded with corruption where powerful and well-connected individuals colluding with cartels who have vested interest in the land. This is what pains many citizens who feel the land saga was supposed to have been the first to be addressed after independence.

Land remains an emotive issue in Kenya and the successive regimes have failed to plan correctly and to follow the law leading to forced evictions. The worst thing about this state of evictions is that they are cruel, inhumane, and degrading, to the extent of contravening international human rights standards. There are so many cases of evictions especially around mining and development projects which are not documented but all these cases, the constitution is not respected.

Despite the confusion, the constitution states that the evictees should be compensated but this is often disregarded, and many families are left homeless and destitute.

Forced evictions has become a common phenomenon

Mukuru Kwa Njenga, for example, suffered the undesired fate of forceful and violent eviction in November 2021. The residents were caught by surprise by bulldozers demolishing their houses with heavy police escort. The youths assembled and began to protest over the eviction. Laughably, the police, with no apparent sense of irony, captured the inequality of community vs state tactics. In response, the police dispersed the protesting residents with live ammunition, leading to loss of life. However, the contestation in Mukuru was on ownership of land between the Orbit Chemicals limited and the community.

The evictees in Mukuru were left homeless. They lost clothing and other personal belongings, and dozens of families are now sleeping in makeshift tents amid the rubble and the open sewage now overflowing during the seasonal rains. Left with no way of making money due to this horrible state, their mental health deteriorated. Sadly, many youths have died by suicide.

The Deputy President, Rigathi Gachagua, in his speech, during the swearing – in ceremony at Kasarani, pledged that the government will never use state agencies to demolish or forcefully evict people from their land. And that every Kenyan is free to live in any place of his/her choice. Ironically, his remarks are contrary to the recent demolition of households in Mavoko that is sponsored by the government through the police, a state agent. The evictees of Mavoko will not only live in agony but also in pain and trauma. Unfortunately, this trend of forced eviction in Mavoko is as a result of land related corruption.

Informal settlers lack tenure security mainly because they occupy lands that are classified as unfit for human habitation or land to which they have no title. In the rural areas, squatters and former labour tenants face evictions from the landowners through the government. It’s clear on the level to which forced evictions violate human rights and unless some national regulatory framework is adopted, such cases are bound to increase exposing the government to unnecessary international scrutiny.

International legal standards allow for eviction. However, under international human rights law, evictions may be carried out only as a last resort, once all other feasible alternatives to eviction have been explored and genuine consultation has taken place with affected individuals or groups. International and regional human rights law requires that adequate procedural safeguards be put in place.

International human rights law provisions

Housing involves more than having a roof over one’s head. It includes the need for minimum levels of security of tenure. Article 11(1) of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights provides for the right to adequate housing, the right to protection from arbitrary or unlawful interference with privacy, family, or home and to legal security of tenure. Article 17 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights provides for the right to protection of the law against arbitrary or unlawful interference with a person’s privacy, family, or home.

Kenya is party to both the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The rights envisioned under Article 11(1) and 17 of the two treaties named respectively mirror each other and they are related, hence the laws are interconnected. Forced evictions contravene the Banjul Charter to which Kenya is also party to, Articles 14 and 16 on the right to property and the right to health, and Article 18(1) on the state’s duty to protect the family.

The Constitution of Kenya, 2010 fully incorporates economic, social, and cultural rights that are recognized under the relevant international and regional human rights instruments. Therefore, evictions should only be carried out when appropriate procedural protections are in place.

Kithinji Nturibi is law student at Mount Kenya University [email protected] 

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