“It’s like when you are born and don’t have a birth certificate, you always feel insecure because you have no real identification. Not having a land rights certificate feels the same,” Chris Lekupe, Westgate Conservancy Manager.
Members of the Westgate Conservancy community were last month awarded legal rights to their land from the Samburu County Government, giving them greater autonomy and igniting momentum for building a more sustainable future.
Land tenure is defined under Kenya’s Land Act 2012, with all land falling into three categories: public, private and community land. In the case of NRT-member community conservancies, land tenure falls largely under community land but in a few cases is still classed as public land. Understanding land tenure is vital in ensuring a strong and legitimate foundation for the formation of a conservancy.
As communally managed land, the land in Ngutuk Ongiron (Westgate Conservancy) has been held in trust by the Samburu County Government since the introduction of the Kenya Trust Land in Act 1963. Under the Act, County Councils should be accountable to the communities and make decisions based on traditional rules and norms. However, there have been cases in Kenya where this system has resulted in the appropriation of community resources for individual benefit, with local communities poorly informed of their rights. This has steadily weakened traditional tenure system and led to the loss of traditional rules and knowledge. Without legal rights to their land, communities lose the incentive to manage and regulate its use.
While land rights registration alone will not bring prosperity to communal lands, it does bring additional social stability and cohesion. Westgate is home to around 5,000 pastoralists, and as a changing climate and increasing human population brings greater challenges to their grasslands, secure land tenure will be a vital foundation in their endeavors to balance prosperous livelihoods with successful wildlife conservation.