Shule Yangu, which means ‘My School’ in Kiswahili, is a school protection and titling campaign that arose from the 19 January 2015 protest by the students of Lang’ata Road Primary School. The public action successfully reclaimed their school from an attempt to excise their playground to extend the parking lot of the neighbouring Weston Hotel.
The public action exposed a major crisis. Subsequent research showed that 83% of Kenya’s primary and secondary schools had no legal title or lease certificates and 41% of public schools are at great risk of land-grabbing and encroachment.
In the wake of the Lang’ata Road protest, public land-defenders under the Shule Yangu Alliance successfully persuaded the Education and Land Ministries, Judiciary and school administrators to form a multi-interest alliance to title 29,000 public schools.
This crisis was the impetus for urgent delivery on the government’s promises and restructuring of government procedures to deliver services in ways that accommodate and match the real challenges of the end users. Having a comprehensive and central location with information on school properties was non-existent before this intervention.
Before January 2015, public schools in Kenya were not protected by secure tenure of land title. The process to title schools was convoluted, bureaucratic and ineffective, and prime-location school properties proved irresistibly enticing to those with ideas for how to commercialize this ‘underutilized’ land. Windows for illegal grabbing opened wide in the presence of corruption and land-governance inefficiencies⸺thieves are aware that the lack of official tenure renders the actual size and ownership of the land ambiguous, and schools with poor documentation struggled to defend against losses.
How did you do it?
On that fateful January 2015 morning, parents, Public Land Defenders, and area elected representatives supported by Civil Society Organisations were on hand to protect the 800 pupils who expressed their disdain for the attempted grabbing of their school land. The students toppled the perimeter wall that land-grabbers had put up to hive off school land for business use. The nation witnessed the students being tear gassed and Public Land Defenders arrested by the police. Outraged by the attempt to grab their playground, the public demanded that this menace, steeped in historical injustices, be handled permanently from the highest office in the land.
The next day, State representative and Interior Ministry Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery personally visited the school to address the students and issue an apology for the manner in which the police responded to their protest. He promised the developers’ illegal wall would be brought down within 24 hours.
Within three days of the protest, Kenya’s President issued a directive to the Ministry of Lands and the Nairobi County Government to issue title deeds to all learning institutions. He also directed that all school land ownership documents be processed and registered in the names of school committees and management boards. The Head of State urged leaders, including Members of County Assemblies (MCAs,) to lead the war of reclaiming any stolen land belonging to schools and to report illegal grabbing to authorities in their regions.
The actions on that morning catalyzed the rise of a movement for the titling of all public schools in Kenya. The Shule Yangu Alliance coalesced out of that day and brought together civil society organisations working on the public interest, children’s rights and land advocacy. They collectively approached the Lands Ministry to establish a working group called the National Working Group for School Title Program.
The Working Group comprised government agencies dealing with land and education, and it sought to ensure that public schools are protected, titled and owned by the school communities. The group worked together to influence and rewrite policies and procedures, conduct research and serve as a technical advisor to the government and school administrators. With the benefit of this attention and protection, school administrators felt empowered to stand up to the bullying tactics of wealthy and politically connected land grabbers by reporting their illegal behavior.
A coordinated campaign, documented on www.shuleyangu.co.ke, was embarked upon by the Alliance and Working Group to achieve the following:
- Verifiable Information - One of the major challenges faced initially was a lack of data. The Ministry of Education had a list of all schools in Kenya but did not have data on the school land acreage. In partnership with the Kenya Primary Schools Headteachers Association (KEPSHA) and Kenya Secondary School Heads Association (KESSHA,) the Alliance conducted an educational campaign to raise awareness on the titling process. The Ministry of Lands and the Alliance attended the associations’ annual conferences to survey the status, size and security of the school properties. Additionally, school land audits were done at the county level through the County Education Officers, which helped speed up the process.
- Governmental Prioritization and Coordination - Titling of schools requires the involvement of many state actors. When the Alliance was formed, the state actors were siloed and with incomplete information. Established at a Ministerial level, the Working Group brought a clearer collective focus and understanding of the respective roles of Head Teachers, the National Lands Commission, and the Lands and Education Ministry. Head Teachers were sensitised on the need to ensure that schools have titles and how to secure them. The National Lands Commission conducted surveys of the schools and their legal documents, and the Lands Ministry awarded them the titles. Requested by the Alliance, the National Land Commission waived the fee for school land to be surveyed. This was a critical piece because schools had struggled to raise this fee, prohibiting them from completing the titling process.
- Legal Framework and Protection - Corruption in land-titling practises goes back as far as the 1990s. Powerful politicians, influential businesses and state administrators would pay bribes to have public land assigned for private ownership. Attempts by Public Land Defenders to reclaim the land for its original use would often be met with stiff legal resistance.
The Naka 5 case is probably one of Kenya’s most famous. A former Mayor established a company and allocated land that had been set aside for a school. Excising 10 out of 12 acres left Naka Primary school with no playground or land to build a future secondary school. Inspired by the Lang’ata School, the Head Teacher, a Public Land Defender, a journalist, the area Member of Parliament and local Member of the County Assembly knocked down a wall that blocked access to schoolground and were criminally charged.
The Shule Yangu Alliance worked with the Directorate of Criminal Investigations to develop new protocols for such cases and private lawyers rose to defend the schools’ cases pro bono, as public litigation. In the case of the Naka 5, based on a petition placed before Parliament, the Director of Public Prosecution elected to withdraw the criminal case.
How is it going?
Progress has been made, through the accelerated titling exercise conducted by the National Lands Commission, Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Lands in coordination with their County representatives and the Shule Yangu Alliance. Over 10,000 schools have received title deeds since 2017. The latest of these were 240 title deeds issued to schools in Siaya and Kisumu Counties in December 2018. Additionally, data on the titling status of over 20,000 schools from 27 counties has been collected. The number of citizens acting, individually and collectively through resident associations, to protect schools at risk has also risen, pointing to more awareness and agency.
Despite these efforts, many schools remain without title deeds. Encumbrances include a lack of clear policies on the status of privately owned schools managed in partnership with the Ministry; succession issues on land gifted to schools; cases contested in court and the lack of adequate records.
In 2019, the Working Group was formally gazetted by the government as a taskforce to play the role of advisor and watchdog that will monitor childrens’ access to quality education in a safe environment. The convening of the Working Group is an exercise in the right direction, as it will enforce government frameworks and charters and ensure that the protection of public land is sustainable.
An emotive issue like access to public education presents an opening for action. The public interest in protecting schools triggered resources and partnerships. A key ingredient was the baseline data collection, which gave an on-the-ground sense of the threats and the scale of the task. This could not have been done as quickly or efficiently without government partnering with civil society. Both sectors have remained focused on the end goal and collaborated for the last five years.
Another lesson is that political will is essential when working with governmental agencies. The actions of the Lang’ata Road Primary students galvanised the work plans for all involved, and the president’s directive to have all school land titled accelerated the titling process. Once the Lang’ata protest made the titling issue a ministerial priority, the work built on existing rights and commitments. The 2013 electoral platform on which the Kenyatta administration had been elected committed to universal primary education and the expansion of secondary schools for Kenya's growing youth population. Leaders understood that the first order of business would be the creation, recreation and re-engineering of government at both the national and county levels. Moreover, in the recently devolved Constitution of Kenya, every child was reassured the right to free and compulsory basic education and was given a promise from the State that it shall take measures, including affirmative action programs, to ensure that youth access relevant education and training. Shule Yangu bridged the interests of land and education rights for effective delivery and protection of both in Kenya.
Lastly, the incorporation of diverse agents and communication channels⸺school board administrators, school heads and their associations, district education officers, local elected officials, and residents⸺empowered citizens to report where cases of grabbing were happening, and to seek land surveying quickly and at low cost.