Land Tenure Issues in Taita Hills

As a part of our research into applying ICTs to the data capture element of land registration, we conducted a series of interviews in Taita Hills touching on major issues people face when it comes to land tenure. The interviews were done in Wongonyi, Ghazi, and Kishushe village, and other locations throughout Taita Taveta County.

Research in Taita Hills revealed that the communities are not fully aware of their rights to land and the process of land registration. This leads to a continued sense of insecurity and injustice when it comes to land ownership in the area.

In recent years, a formal adjudication was carried out in some parts, however, the results of the adjudication processes are yet to be seen and, in many adjudicated areas, title deeds are yet to be issued.

These are some of the most pressing issues in the area:

  • There is a discord between the traditional landholding and inheritance systems and the government issued legal adjudication process. The respondents understood the value of the title deed, they saw it as a permanent and government-issued record of ownership but did not attach much importance to the legal process of demarcation or subdivision itself.
  • The ownership to the land had often been passed down from parents to children through oral tradition and without any formal process of subdivision or registration. The knowledge of boundary points of properties is oftentimes held in the collective memory of the community, often by the elders. If the knowledge is lost, there’s no way of retrieving it.
  • The larger part of the area under research had undergone the land adjudication process in the past. Some respondents confirmed receiving title deeds while others indicated that their property has yet to be adjudicated.[1] Many landowners whose land has been adjudicated say they had only been given plot numbers with the promise of titles deeds to be issued later. [2]
  • Nevertheless, the sale or transfer or subdivision of land in Taita Hills has continued since. The transactions carried out were often recorded on a piece of paper and without any other formal records. In some cases, the only proof of land transactions were plot numbers and names written on a piece of paper.
  • Without formal records to the ownership of land, confusion and conflict occurred. There were several examples of how missing records lead to disputes. For example, in some cases the children who lived outside the community returned to what they thought was their ancestor’s land, only to find that the land has been “transferred” to someone else. The children demanded that “new owners” show the proof of official transfer documents and when they couldn’t produce them, they asked them to leave the premises, causing tensions within the community. Similar examples touch on land that was in the past donated to churches, hospitals, schools, and other institutions. The land was donated without written or formal agreements and for an unclear period of time, causing similar tensions as in the previous example.
  • Another potential cause of tension can occur in the future. Once the adjudication process occurs and title deeds are finally issued to the owners, they are usually issued in the names of original owners (at least the ones captured during a survey completed decades ago) and not necessarily the people who occupy the land at that particular time. This can lead to more tension in the community.
  • Finally, most community members did not know which government offices handle land matters. The term ‘land office’ was used to denote an institution that is all-encompassing when it comes to land matters but people did not know its actual responsibilities. In fact, the chief’s office emerged as the preferred initial point of contact for all land matters. On top of that, the respondents did not understand the processes of land adjudication and titling or the costs involved or of the documentation required for various procedures.

There are several solutions that can be put in place to mitigate some of these problems. Creating proper digitized land records is, of course, one of them. In the future blogs, we’ll discuss some of the easiest and most cost-effective options to do just that.

[1] According to the Lands Office in Voi, Taita Taveta County the area has been adjudicated as a large adjudication zone in a process that began in the late 1980s and ended in the early 2000s. The same was confirmed by the village elders and the elderly who confirmed having participated in the process of adjudication.

[2] It is worth noting that some of the titles issued were defective because the names of owners were incorrect.

Open Cities Africa, Zanzibar

Spatial Collective is the implementing partner of the World Bank’s Open Cities Africa initiative on Zanzibar. The goal of the initiative is to create and release open spatial data about the built environment, critical infrastructure, and natural hazards concerning the Zanzibar Archipelago, with a specific focus on Zanzibar City.

This project builds on our previous efforts of mapping the outputs of the Zanzibar Mapping Initiative (read more about it here and here). Since the start of the Open Cities Project, our team of digitizers added more than 100,000 buildings to an already existing dataset of approximately 250,000 buildings mapped during the first phase.

The mapping of buildings on Unguja Island is almost complete. Our efforts are now shifting towards mapping all of the buildings on Pemba Island and adding additional infrastructure such as the road network on both islands.

Below is the map representing the number of buildings per each 3x3km grid.

The Need for Inclusive Community- and Data-centered Land Registration Within Standards and Legal Thresholds

In countries across Africa, many people do not have access to formal land registration. Individual and shared property rights have not been properly documented or acknowledged.

Lack of documentary evidence of customary property rights leaves individuals, households, and communities at a disadvantage. Lack of customary land rights has undermined the ability of individuals, households, and communities to protect their traditional access to land for agriculture, environmental conservation and mineral rights. Government and private companies have been able to evict communities or make claims and prospect in areas where rights have only been expressed by oral tradition[1]. Even within communities, undocumented transfers of land have caused confusion. Where a title deed may exist, the deed has not been updated by any subdivisions or bequests and may refer to a deceased party as owner. Land may be grabbed or obtained without challenge, traditional rights of access, usage, and sale values are undermined. Moreover, landowners have no proof of ownership which could allow them to borrow credit.

Getting legal evidence of rights to property has been a lengthy and expensive process which requires precise measurements of boundaries and rights of access or easements of land that can usually only be done by trained surveyors. Also, the types of customary rights which have been declared by communities may not fit the formal legal definition of land title rights.

The current act (2016) gives communities both the right and the outline of a mechanism by which customary land can be legally recognized for the first time in Kenya. As yet, the detail of the registration process is unclear and requisite forms have not been disseminated. This means that registration is currently conducted to the standards required by formal titling. The whole process is limiting and communities are confused as to how to go about the registration process.

Key bottlenecks are assumed to be:

  1. Lack of affordable tools to empower people to obtain rights to their land.
  2. Local communities have no access to information.
  3. Local communities are not able to value their land.
  4. The registration process is unclear or unknown to the communities.
  5. The relationships between Kenyan national, community and individuals in terms of property rights is difficult for communities to comprehend.
  6. Antiquated procedures sustained through inertia in the titling process and an inability to explore, let alone adopt new technologies to replace old methods.
  7. Technical tools used to capture vital info on mapping are often too expensive, difficult to operate, rely solely on connectivity, and require extensive training/maintenance and complex processing solutions. In some cases, the skills needed to record information accurately often built up over many years of experience including formal qualifications.

So while there might be a perception by the national government that customary titling can move forward, communities struggle to work out a cost-effective path to documented rights. With titling, people can buy and sell land more easily, protect and manage the land more effectively, and conserve the resources on and under that land.

The current limited network of both government and private surveyors would be overwhelmed if all communities rushed to document their land at this time. Professional surveyors fees needed at demarcation and titling stages of the process would be prohibitive for most communities, let alone individual owners within those communities.

Our recent research applied new technologies to the data capture element of registration in order to test whether affordable tools for documentation of land exist, whether these tools can reach the accuracy standards required by the state, and whether communities can fill in the gap and replicate the work of a professional surveyor.

To do this, we looked into the land demarcation process, determined whether new technologies were of quality and met national standards, and gauged the most cost-effective tools which are widely accessible to local communities.

More coming soon.

Authors: Primoz Kovacic, Alan Mills, Michelle Gathigi

[1] Land Rights Now, 2016.

Putting Community and Rights on the Map in Southern Kenya

Throughout 2017, Spatial Collective applied new technologies to the data capture element of land registration in order to test whether affordable tools for documentation of land exist, whether these tools can reach the accuracy standards required by the state, and whether communities can replicate the work of a professional surveyor. To do this, our research looked into the land demarcation process, determined whether new technologies were of quality and met national standards, and gauged the most cost-effective tools which are widely accessible to local communities.

The fieldwork and production of the report were supported by Omidyar Network.

We will make our research openly available shortly, but in the meantime, we will publish a series of blog posts touching on the main findings of the research, starting with the Executive Summary below.

Executive Summary

The Community Lands Act of Kenya – passed in September 2016 – provides for the recognition, protection, and registration of community land rights. One of the requirements to registering community land is for communities to agree on and identify the community resources and boundaries to determine which entity deserves recognition for ownership. For this reason, there is an urgent need to build the most affordable and sustainable systems for mapping community lands.

We believe that through affordable and ubiquitous technologies, coupled with awareness raising and training, local communities can understand their land rights and contribute to proper land mapping in rural and remote areas of Kenya. While Kenya has existing legislature and controlling bodies to enact land laws, many local communities remain unaware of their rights and the processes to claim and register land. This leaves a large part of the country unmapped and communities ripe for dispute and confrontation.

A wide selection of geospatial technologies exist to accurately survey the land, however, many of these are expensive, require very specialized skills to operate or facilitate and, in some cases, muster a hostile reaction from the communities due to its unfamiliarity of use. In our research, we looked at off-the-shelf, easy to use, hand-held mobile and GPS units and their potential in communities’ participation in land demarcation. We chose these tools because their learning curve is less steep compared to some other technologies for land mapping. These tools are ubiquitous and habitually used in many aspects of life in Kenya, such as communication, entertainment, access to information, Internet, and mobile banking. We were interested to see whether these tools can be used in property rights mapping to reach the accuracy and attribution threshold required by the state for land demarcation.

To do this, Spatial Collective implemented a three-step approach. First, we examined the process of land demarcation for new grants and for the subdivision of land. We were specifically interested in the accuracy and attribution of spatial data required by professional surveyors and government offices for demarcation of land. Second, we tested a series of affordable mobile and GPS tools in varying environments to see whether they can achieve these thresholds. And third, by replicating the work of a professional surveyor, we assessed whether communities can lead the process of demarcation of their own lands.

We found that environmental factors greatly affect the nature of measurements of different terrains. Most of the latest mobile phones can only reach the accuracy standards required for mapping general boundaries, which is three meters or lower. This is the standard required for mapping parcels and community land in rural areas in Kenya. These tools cannot be used for the capture of fixed boundaries which require two to three-centimeter accuracies.

Furthermore, we found that a pairing of mobile and GPS dependencies may provide the most optimal and cost-effective measurements in the face of environmental and terrain challenges and limited network connectivity.

Working with communities and a professional surveyor, we find that communities can lead the process of land demarcation and can replicate the work of a professional surveyor both in terms of accuracies and attribution required in rural areas. Smartphones can store the necessary attribute data from the field in a digital format, fulfilling the requirements to document people, land and associated rights.  Training is relatively simple and most processes repeatable to a satisfactory standard, and the possibility of having units available at sub-county level that can be rented out to communities makes it cost effective and affordable.

Most rural parcels are currently registered only through pen and paper and sometimes by a measuring tape. The information is then stored in paper format at the County offices, making it susceptible to manipulation, corruption, and loss. The ubiquitous mobile phones and GPS units provide an excellent alternative to the system that is currently used.

We believe our research can empower local people to rightfully claim land and thus eradicate future land disputes and conflicts amongst them. We also believe there are opportunities for policymakers, lawmakers, technical experts, and administrators to use these insights to influence and shape their land rights agendas, as well as support efforts to better include local people and accurately map boundaries in Kenya.

More coming soon.

Database of schools in Mathare

Spatial Collective has been gathering information on schools in Mathare Constituency since January 2018. At the time of writing, we have collected information on hundreds of indicators for about one hundred schools in all six wards of Mathare, including Mathare North area.

The information collected included the following categories:

  • Information on the interviewer
  • School description
  • Registration process
  • Student population
  • Funding and fees
  • Financial management
  • Information on facilities
  • Information on teachers
  • Information on curriculum
  • Management and governance
  • Community engagement
  • Quality assurance

This information will help our client, the East African Center for Human Rights, increase their understanding of the larger social, political and economic contexts within which these schools function.

Locations of schools

Survey of 6000+ plots in Viwandani (Photo Blog)

In the past six weeks, Spatial Collective’s team visited approximately 6000 plots in Viwandani Area in Nairobi and completed thousands of interviews touching on access to sanitation facilities.

To complete a project this size in such a short time, project planning and good teamwork are essential. Images below represent one of our fieldwork planning meetings held at Viwandani.


Creating landlord and plot profiles of Viwandani Area

Spatial Collective is currently conducting a door-to-door survey for the purpose of collecting data on sanitation facilities and creating landlord and plot profiles in one of Nairobi’s informal settlements. We are providing the manpower to conduct the survey and have also trained additional people from the settlement to help with the work.

To fulfill the requirements of the proposed engagement, we deployed the following approach:

  • Carry out a building extraction of the Viwandani area. Using aerial imagery, Spatial Collective digitized every structure in the area of interest. Digitization provided a building footprint which was later used for door-to-door data collection.
Building extraction
  • Coding of structures. All of the digitized structures were automatically numbered for easier identification. These house codes help with the logistics of implementing the household survey and will later enable us to link the survey questions to the map.
Building Reference Numbers
  • Development of a questionnaire for data collection. We helped the client with the development of a questionnaire for data collection. Techno Spark K7 mobile phone, OpenDataKit and ONA platforms are being used for data collection.

  • Ongoing field work consists of the following:
    — ground verification of shapes of digitized structures,
    — documenting the number of housing units within each structure,
    — grouping structures together that make up plots and
    — collecting details on plots, including sanitation facilities and landlords and caretakers information.
Diana during fieldwork
  • Development of plot profiles and landlord profiles. In the end, all the data from the field will be digitized and merged with the building extraction, creating a geospatial layer consisting of plot profiles of Viwandani Area.
  • Finally, a series of visualizations will be made based on the analysis required.
Survey progress map

Project Planning (Video)

Project planning is essential for successful implementation of activities. Get it right and the project runs like a well-oiled machine. Mess it up, and the outputs of the project could be jeopardized.

We recently held a project planning meeting in Mathare and thought to make a video. The aim of this particular project was to collect data on all the schools in Mathare, Kenya’s second largest informal settlement, and create a rich database for a human rights organization.

Digitizing Zanzibar Archipelago (Progress Report)

Spatial Collective spent months on Zanzibar building capacity of the Commission for Lands (COLA) and State University of Zanzibar (SUZA) students and staff on digitizing the Digitizing the Outputs of the Zanzibar Mapping Initiative. The goal was to build enough capacity so that local entities can independently digitize all the structures on Unguja (and eventually Pemba) Island. Training was held at the Commission for Lands on Zanzibar.

Summary of deliverables so far:

  • Two and a half months of intensive capacity building for COLA and SUZA  staff
  • Another two months of independent digitizing was carried out by the COLA and SUZA students and staff under Spatial Collective’s supervision
  • Eleven COLA staff and ten SUZA staff and students trained in digitization and data management
  • All the structures within 150+ (out of 239) grids (3 km x 3 km) digitized
  • All the structures within Stone Town digitized
  • Altogether, more than 100,000 buildings digitized
  • The following attributes were assigned to each building:
    1. Building Condition (Complete, Incomplete, Foundation)
    2. Problematic Capture for buildings which attribution or digitization was problematic
    3. Change-set (date)
    4. Building Area (square meters)
    5. Building Reference Numbers assigned to the buildings in the Pilot Area based on the classification put forth by the Client
  • Shapefile and Spatialite dB layers created for the datasets
  • The following manuals were developed:
    1. Setting up Spatialite Database
    2. Accessing Data through the Spatialite Database or Locally from the Computer
    3. Setting up for Digitization
    4. Basic Tools for Digitizing and Topology Checker
    5. Digitization – Practical Steps and Rules
    6. Digitization Error Examples
    7. Edge Matching
    8. Generating Building Reference Numbers


Countering Violent Extremism: A Perceptions Mapping Study

Building Resilience in Civil Society (BRICS) runs a Regional Countering Violent Extremism Research Unit (RRU) in East Africa. BRICS was commissioned to conduct in-depth research designed to determine the local context of violent extremism. The research is based in North Eastern Kenya, Coastal Kenya and Tanzania, and Central and Eastern Uganda. The purpose of area-based research is to identify locations for long-term participatory community research and engagement that will result in location-specific and community-led Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programming.

Spatial Collective was approached to help develop a product which will enable BRICS to present the findings in a simplified but well-understood way, identify areas for potential further investment through small-scale grants, and support policy development.

To fulfill the requirements, Spatial Collective deployed the following approach:

  • Conduct research into interviews and other datasets to inform the design of the subsequent steps and end products.
  • Coding of interviews to identify specific topics.
  • Aggregate the data with the focus on several factors, namely:
    • who are the stakeholders;
    • what are their networks;
    • which are the pathways to violent extremism;
    • how do they relate to income-generating opportunities?
  • Spatial Collective, in collaboration with Oil Creatives, then developed a coherent and engaging story on the relationship between access to opportunities and violent extremism, as well as on the identity of relevant stakeholders, their activities, and networks.
  • Finally, relationship networks and pathways to violent extremism were visualized through the geographic presentation, maps, and infographics.

The purpose of these steps was to create a more simplified but well-understood product that enables BRICS to:

  • Articulate main research points in a simple and visual way.
  • Present the findings to the communities and other stakeholders through well-understood visualizations, as well as gather the feedback through an interactive, engaging and informative approach.
  • Provide BRICS and their partners with a better understanding of the complex interconnectedness of issues, stakeholders, and pathways concerning violent extremism.
  • Strengthen components to counter violent extremism.
  • Identify areas for potential further investment through small-scale grants.
  • Support policy development.