Land is Not Property

Land is not property.

This is the Twitter name of one of my favorite Twitter (and offline) personalities.

 I’ve seen the phrase on her profile for quite a while, quietly acknowledging the depth of the matter highlighted, but never giving it much thought. Well, haba na haba hujaza kibaba, and the cursory thought built up to a full rumination, hence these words. My thought on the land issue were actually shaped by something else – discussions on data governance. In this age where our relationship with data is infinitely complex and far-reaching, many people have increasingly called for the  introduction of a system that enables people to own their data, essentially setting the pace for people to eventually sell such data, if they so wish.

Despite the seeming power that such a move appears to provide to the individual, it will actually result in entrenching the current data governance imbalance that we are trying to move beyond. Using the example of tech companies, they would be all too glad to buy your data. First of all, your individual data is worth peanuts. Data largely gains its large value in bulk, when it becomes what we refer to as Big Data. However, Orare’s individual data wouldn’t be as costly and Facebook, Google, or Jumia would jump at the opportunity to purchase my data. I will then have ceded all rights to my data, in exchange for some few shillings. The current system is even better since I still have a right (as much as the powers that be may try to erode it) to enquire and dictate how my data will be used; albeit a minimal power.

Furthermore, this whole “sell your data” movement tries to live in tandem with the hyper-commodification of the modern age. Anything and everything can be sold. A lie is what that is. Yes, it may be your data, but it’s other people’s data as well. Once an app asks for permission to access your contact, it already has data on people who have probably never even heard of that app. Therefore, selling that data means that you have sold other people’s data as well. Data, particularly in the contemporary sense, does not exist in a vacuum – it is an ecosystem.

Not everything can be sold; not everything should be sold.  We don’t pay for the air we breath and in the same vein, shouldn’t have to pay for the water we drink. Water is freely available, in numerous places across the globe. Admittedly, those who develop systems and processes that extract water (from the ground, ocean etc.), purify it, and deliver it to the final consumer should receive compensation for their work. But it should end at that. Fair pay for their efforts, and nothing more. There should be a ceiling on how much water can cost. We can live for couple of days without food, even fewer without water, and only a few minutes without air.

Can we live without land?

No, we literally live on and off it. Land is one of the four factors of production. Without land, you will have no where to live, no where to farm, no where to do anything. You’re basically disabled. It was land that led to the struggle for independence, hence the Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA). You cannot be free if you have no land to freely express yourself on. In this regard, can land be sold? Should land be sold? How can I call myself a Kenyan, yet I own no piece of this geographical territory that makes up Kenya? An Israeli with land in Kenya is more Kenyan than I, a birth citizen who owns no land. I might probably have to pay rent to that foreigner, simply because they had the money to purchase the land.

How can you, or I, a creature that will live for a Century at most, claim to own a piece of this billions-year old rock floating through space – all because of some money? Which they might have stolen mind you?

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