On the Edge: Making Peace: Surveyor’s GPS Device Serves as Mediator in Kenyan Land Dispute

April 1, 2011  - By
Image: GPS World

By Noah Kertich

Early morning on February 2, 2011, I went to work in my job as a road surveyor in the Bungoma District of Kenya. Here, land disputes are common, though the government is trying to reduce the conflicts by issuing land titles and certificates.

I carried with me a small handheld GPS, the Magellan Explorist 100. While I was using it, a stout man in early fifties approached me and introduced himself as a surveyor, too. He was very interested in the way I was walking around with the “gadget,” trying to locate a control point. He asked me how the gadget worked. I explained it to him, showing him how its easy to use in general boundary surveys. He was satisfied, and we exchanged contacts and parted.

A month later, he called me for help. When I asked him what was wrong, he told me there were a group of land owners, or members, who were about to kill each other in a dispute over a 128-acre farm they had bought. These members had each contributed money to buy a single parcel with the intention of subdividing it fairly. They were engaged in a disagreement about the boundaries and the subdivision of the farm. The gentleman asked me if I could take a survey of the farm sometime in the next few days. Concerned about the conflict, I answered, “Yes, in hours not days.” Still, it wasn’t until two days later that he could assemble the members of the disputed farm and called me to mark the boundaries for them.

I arrived at the farm with my Magellan GPS and my laptop. To my dismay, I found that some of the members were armed with crude weapons, ready to fight each other. I asked them to be peaceful and wait for just a few hours while I surveyed the site.
I started picking the boundary corners of the farm all around the permiter. I was through with that task in less than 35 minutes. This parcel of land was to be divided into 18 pieces. I uploaded the data manually to my laptop, then I did the subdivision using AutoCAD Land Development 2000.

After two hours and fifteen minutes, I called the members and told them to ready themselves to be shown the boundaries of their property.

I walked around the property with them, guided by my handheld GPS, to each boundary beacon. After one and a half hours, the warring members were shaking hands and laughing, saying “So, it was that easy!”

The dispute had ended, and was solved peacefully. My small Magellan Explorist 100 acted as a peace mediator.


Noah Kertich is a surveyor with H Young Construction EA Ltd., which is under contract with the World Bank in conjunction with the government of Kenya. Kertich graduated from the Kenya Institute of Surveying and Mapping in 2004 and received a diploma in photogrammetry and GIS from Icaros Geosystems, Israel, in 2008.

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