The demolition of a school building sheds light on the vulnerabilities of public lands


In the early hours of the morning on October 6, a school building on the outskirts of the Kenyan capital Nairobi was demolished without warning.

The perpetrators are not yet confirmed, but local associations suspect a private company that has been part of a land dispute with the school since the 1990s. This demolition is part of a broader phenomenon of insecurity of public lands in Kenya. , with associations working to protect schools from encroachment and land grabbing.

Photos shared online show the razed remains of a workshop and classroom building at Martin Luther Elementary School, located in the Makadara neighborhood. The workshop contained a carpentry workshop that is used by some of the school’s 801 students, particularly the 66 of whom have special needs.

School officials report that the building, as well as its contents, were torn down without warning, destroying desks, computers and other equipment found inside.

The Martin Luther Elementary School grounds were seized and partially demolished, and they have begun identifying beacons to mark the parcels.

– casper keeru (@casperkeeru) October 6, 2021 Photos posted to Twitter on October 6 show the remains of the Martin Luther Elementary School workshop building after being demolished overnight.

A bulldozer was accompanied by security guards who watched.

Part of the Nairobi County Martin Luther Primary Public School, including the school’s workshop, has been demolished under the supervision of more than 100 police officers and the surveyors were on the ground, wakaweka beacons on the playground of the school. Https:// pic.twitter .com / c43rxE3NPA

– Mike Sonko (@MikeSonko) October 6, 2021 Former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko visited the site on the morning of October 6, after the demolition took place.

Although local officials have yet to confirm who was behind the demolition, community members have pointed the finger at Thabiti Enterprises, a private company that has claimed the land since the 1990s.

According to Shule Yangu, a campaign that aims to protect the land rights of schools by obtaining property titles from public schools, aligned with Transparency International Kenya, this is a textbook case of “land grabbing “, where developers or private entities seize public lands. they often encounter a “culture of impunity” in Kenya.

‘The demolition happened totally against the law’

The JowharObservers team spoke with Edwin Birech, project officer for the protection of public schools and campaign coordinator for Shule Yangu:

The demolition was carried out totally against the law. There has to be a court order for those structures to be demolished, but there was no court order. There were policemen there supervising the demolition, but the local police were unaware. The private developers may have hired their own police to protect them during the demolition.

Most of these demolitions happen at night, for fear of being mistreated by the community. They take advantage of the fact that, with the Covid-19 pandemic in Kenya, no one can roam the streets at night and no local community came at night to rescue the school.

It was just a few structures in the school, but that’s just one way to invade the school. Who knows. It’s a fight for a 5.3 acre piece of land, a big piece of land, so we can only imagine what kind of structure they would choose in the future.

Martin Luther Elementary School is located on a large lot (marked in orange). The school buildings (in blue) are on one corner of the property and students use the remaining vacant lot as a playground and field. The demolished building is marked in red, within an area that has been contested for decades (in green). The buildings in yellow are private businesses that have been built on land that was previously used by the school. © Google Earth / Observers

Demolition boils down to a dispute over ownership of the land. Martin Luther Elementary School does not have a title to the land on which it sits, which, according to Birech, reflects “the vulnerabilities that all public schools in Kenya face.”

The land parcel dispute dates back to 1992, when Thabiti Enterprises filed a lawsuit against the Nairobi City Council, which managed the land and the school, for trespassing: building a fence and a sign on a portion of the land they claimed. The case went back and forth on appeals for more than two decades, finally being thrown out in 2015.

According to public records, the state assigned a parcel of the school’s land to the company in 1986, despite the fact that city officials had requested that it be officially assigned to the school, which had used the land for decades and had already built a workshop there.

The JowharObservers team was unable to reach Thabiti Enterprises for comment.

Shule Yangu has requested that the school be granted a title deed to all of its property “in accordance with the survey and demarcation plan” carried out in 1956, which assigned the land to the school.

‘People thought that public spaces did not need property titles because they are part of the government’

Despite the progress made since Shule Yangu started operations in 2015, 56% of Kenyan public schools still do not have official ownership of the land that their students use every day.

The system also suffers from a lack of coherence, with up to 42 different laws that have dictated the allocation of public lands and countless stakeholders involved in the process. Even owning a land title in Kenya does not necessarily protect against land grabbing, as corruption has led to land registration fraud.

Birech explained:

Public schools in Kenya are basically run by the government, on public land. In the past there was the notion that anything owned by the government is quite safe. But that turned out to be totally untrue. People thought that public spaces did not need property titles because they are part of the government, but they learned that they were losing public spaces due to illegal land grabbing or usurpation. It is worth noting that when the land grabbing of public spaces began in Kenya, it was understood that officials from the Ministry of Lands, employed by the government to issue and process property titles, would actually use the ponds to remove and parcel the land. from public schools and broadcast to individuals.

Over the years, Kenyan schools have been invaded by construction projects that include roads and commercial buildings.

Shule Yangu began in 2015 after a developer tried to take over the playground at Langata Road Primary School in Nairobi, erecting a perimeter wall to keep children out of the play area. The police fired tear gas at the students who protested the incident.

>> Read on The Observers: Kenyan Children Tear Gased While Attempting to Reclaim the Playground

‘The gap is widening between those who can attend private schools and those who cannot’

Birech continued:

Due to financial constraints faced by most communities in Kenya, the only option available for some children to access education is through public schools. If a school is demolished in a village, children will have to travel a long distance to reach another school. When students have to get up very early in the morning and walk a lot to get to school on time, you never know what might happen. In terms of educational inequality, the gap is widening between those who can attend private schools and those who cannot. Students attending private schools can simply continue their education.

Some new policies have taken steps to consolidate and simplify the land ownership system, make land titles easier to obtain, and protect public spaces, but the jury is still out on the impact these changes will have.

National directives were passed in 2015 and 2018 to oblige the Land Ministry to issue property titles to schools, but little progress has been made so far.