Home OPINIONS Who Speaks for Wanjiku? Grassroot dissent over Kiambu County’s land rates

Who Speaks for Wanjiku? Grassroot dissent over Kiambu County’s land rates

Many modest landowners in the county rely on small family farms passed down generations to survive.

Over the hills of Kiambu County, a storm is brewing over the implementation of new land rates. The Kiambu County government recently activated the Kiambu County Valuation and Rating Act, 2016 through the Finance Act, 2023 Many are terming the Valuation and Rating Act, 2016 as controversial as it designates all private land as taxable and grants authorities’ extensive powers to recover unpaid debts in accrued land rates and the associated penalties.

The move has sparked public outrage from the county citizens and advocates, arguing freehold farms deserve an exemption. As the county government stands firm indicating that they are implementing a law that has been in existence, tensions with significant stakes for citizens and Governor Wamatangi’s administration are rising.

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The law’s origin can be traced back to 2016 when Governor Kabogo signed the Act designating lands as taxable but deferred implementation to avoid losing popularity among the electorate. His successors followed suit, prioritizing politics over the contentious policy lingering silently. Now, after years of postponement, Kiambu faces a reckoning. As Governor Wamatangi pursues revenue targets, the law has emerged from the political shadows, eliciting collective action from citizens.

In the community roundtables, they have expressly indicated that they want the law repealed. This organized opposition spotlights the complex bargain between leaders and the citizens on decisions impacting daily life. In essence, the law allows authorities to penalize unpaid taxes with up to 3% monthly interest since 2016 and ultimately sell the piece of land to recover the accrued amounts. The County Minister of Finance could do so either through a public auction or through a private treaty.  Stunned Kiambu residents now face demands to pay the accumulated arrears dating back to 2016, with similar penalties automatically applying for every missed future payment.

Many modest landowners in the county rely on small family farms passed down generations to survive. For these cash-strapped farmers, the harsh law represents a terrifying threat, jeopardizing their intergenerational lands over their inability to afford the sudden stringent tax liabilities. Hence, advocacy groups in the county have been sharing the provisions of the Act with the larger public. Citizens are now themselves challenging the provisions of the law which they have resolved needs a repeal.

Additionally, it has been noted that there has been minimal to no awareness of the law and that the public did not participate in the process leading to the activation of the Valuation and Rating Act, of 2016. Now more than ever, citizens have seen how their lack of participation in the county processes can have dire consequences including the ownership of their property. The fierce uprising underscores historically marginalized citizen voices now struggling to shift governance priorities towards more inclusive representation catering to ordinary Wanjikus’ needs.

As tensions endure, resolute citizens remain undeterred in pursuing accountability and rights. Their solidarity highlights determined activation at the heart of genuine civic engagement. It reveals why substantive public participation and transparency prove vital when top-down policies stand poised to unravel communities. Lasting solutions to collective problems cannot simply manifest through unilateral elite actions behind closed doors without informed consent or constructive inputs from the governed.

Compromise remains possible if authorities validate citizens’ inputs and serve community-grounded realities, not impose top-down interests. Engaged, united societies will demand accountability and representation – by exercising vigilance through solidarity again and again till their voices are heard.

Twaweza stands with Wanjiku in Kiambu, maintaining that exclusionary governance erodes social cohesion and trust. This also goes for all counties that must structurally embed inclusive civic discourse by earmarking budgets for genuine public participation. Intentional people-centered engagement remains non-negotiable for equitable devolution and development.

Filbert Mbugua is a Consultant Youth Researcher at Twaweza East Africa (consultantfm@twaweza.org)

Filbert Mbugua
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