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Kenya: Alternative Report to the CESCR 'The Lie of the Land'

The economic, social and cultural root causes of violence in Kenya are manifold and complex. In this report, however, they are examined through a specific lens – that of access to land and the resources associated with it. In Kenya, land represents survival, shelter and security. For the majority of the population, it is essential for guaranteeing the rights to work and to an adequate standard of living, including adequate food (it is said that land and natural resources provides a livelihood for some 80 per cent of Kenya’s population). Land is also inextricably linked to the question of housing: where there are doubts over title deeds, housing security is put at risk, and with it access to education, health facilities and other services. In Kenya’s cities, residents of certain disadvantaged areas are effectively criminalised – and victimised – by the police. For women and children, their de facto exclusion from ownership of land and other forms of property is one of the factors at the heart of the discrimination they experience. And for many Kenyans, and in particular indigenous communities, certain pieces of land have a cultural significance so great that it is difficult for those who do not belong to these communities to begin to grasp its importance. Land in Kenya is also a symbol of political power and patronage. Political support finds reward in the form of land allocations, and groups too small to have a political impact often live in constant uncertainty over the very land on which they live and work.

The question of land and associated resources, including housing, is, of course, not the only key to understanding the economic, social and cultural root causes of violence in Kenyan society, however it is a theme that was raised again and again in the course of meetings held during the preparatory mission for this report. Participants in these meetings commonly expressed that they considered it impossible to address effectively the long-term and ongoing social tensions in Kenya until the issue of land tenure is satisfactorily resolved.

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