Mitigating Land Conflict

Sisi ni Amani Kenya (SNA-K) is using ICT and open-air forums to leverage communication and expertise on land issues for the prevention of land-based conflict in grassroots communities.

The Need

Conflict in Narok, Rift Valley, one of SNA-K’s target communities, is rooted in ongoing land issues and the escalation of small-scale tensions through the spread of rumors. Land conflict at the local level often stems from easily preventable issues that have existing mechanisms and channels for resolution. For example, a common issue called double- leasing occurs when the owner of the land leases the land to two different people and thus creates a conflict between the two lessees, both of whom believe the land rightfully belongs to them. These small-scale conflicts over individual plots of land are exacerbated by a lack of local knowledge on how to legally resolve such conflict and a lack of alternative means for dispute resolution.

The spread of rumors escalates this type of small-scale conflict into violence or the threat of violence between entire ethnic communities. Politicized and inciting rumors often become self- fulfilling, spreading fear within different communities and often leading to eventual conflict. A conflict between two individuals enters the rumor mill as a conflict between two ethnic communities, leading these communities to arm themselves, treat one and other with suspicion, and at times to fight one another.

During election periods in Kenya, existing tensions at the grassroots level have historically been used to incite populations to violence. For example, in 2007-8, rumors were used as a tool of intimidation to force people to leave the area. It is crucial to address underlying land issues and the spread of rumors, two key triggers of conflict in the Narok area that can be easily used to spark widespread political violence and prevents communities from engaging fully in the productive use of land. As the 2012 elections approach, Sisi ni Amani Kenya (SNA-K) has recognized the need to sensitize communities on land issues and to decrease their vulnerability to manipulative rumors in order to decrease fear, tensions, and the possibility for small individual conflicts to erupt into community-wide conflicts. Starting with a pilot program in the Narok area, SNA-K is harnessing the power of simple communication from experts and ICTs to engage communities in dialogue and increase their utilization of the government and non-governmental institutions for land management and dispute resolution.

To do this, SNA-K focuses on three program components: 

1. Open-Air Forums:

SNA-K has conducted a series of open-air forums focused on land-based education and sensitization on rumors in twelve key locations in the lead-up to the 2013 elections, developing a simple and replicable approach:

  •  Conflict Assessment: SNA-K conducts community-based research to identify the most common and preventable land issues in the given area.
  • Forum Design: Based on this research, SNA-K designs forums bringing expert lawyers from different ethnic backgrounds to provide education on the most common issues in a given area.
  •  Mobilization & Implementation of Open-Air Forums: SNA-K mobilizes the community to attend the forums through mobile technology, community leaders, local radio, and grassroots outreach. The forums are open-air and include extensive Question & Answer sessions to engage communities in dialogue about key issues.

2. Improving Land Management: 

In an in-depth research on land issues in the greater Narok area, SNA-K found that a lack of clear understanding of how different formal and traditional land institutions fit together and can be used by the community are a key challenge to land management and dispute resolution. Based on these findings, SNA-K held a workshop for land stakeholders from relevant legal and traditional institutions to identify key challenges faced by each institution in managing and resolving land issues.

The workshop resulted in the creation of clear coordinated information on land management and dispute resolution, including how community members should interact with different institutions to resolve common issues. SNA-K created brochures with this information, which were given to each institution for distribution to its constituents. The workshop created concrete steps to improve coordination, and participants reported increased understanding of the work of other institutions and of opportunities for collaboration.

3. SMS-Based Violence Prevention & Education:

SNA-K uses its SMS platform to complement and enhance its work on mitigating land conflict in Narok in three ways:

  • Mobilization: SNA-K uses its SMS platform to mobilize communities to attend open-air forums and other events relevant to land management and violence prevention.
  • Education: SNA-K uses SMS to educate community members on relevant issues, including how they can voice grievances over land-based issues peacefully.
  • Violence Prevention: SNA-K sends violence prevention text messages to target demographic groups when tensions arise at the grassroots level.

In the lead-up to Kenya’s 2013 elections and beyond, SNA-K is working to increase grassroots cooperation around land issues and prevent land-based violence in the Narok area. Following the elections, SNA-K plans to expand this programming to additional parts of the Rift Valley.