Odenda Lumumba’s Alumni Profile

February 19, 2018

The Columbia Center on Sustainable Investment (CCSI) launched an Alumni Profile Series in which alumni of CCSI’s Executive Training on Sustainable Investments in Agriculture are interviewed about their career paths.


In this profile, Odenda Lumumba, Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Land Alliance (KLA) and a 2016 Executive Training alumnus, provides insights into work as a human rights advocate specializing in land issues.

1.  What do you do for work?

As the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Land Alliance (KLA), I am the principal director of an advocacy network comprised of civil society organizations and individuals campaigning for land laws, policy, and institutional reforms in Kenya. I inform the design of advocacy strategy on land policy, laws, and institutional reform in Kenya.

2.  How has your career trajectory led you to where you are today?

Principally, I am a human rights advocate specializing in land rights activism. I embarked on this career in the 1980s when I realized that land rights are a major cause and effect of Kenya’s societal inequalities and underpin Kenyan historical injustices from colonial times to the present. After successfully spearheading land reform efforts that resulted in Kenya’s first National Land Policy and contributing to the Land & Environment Chapter in the Constitution of Kenya, I decided to pursue a Masters in Land and Agrarian Studies in 2010. These studies led me to eventually earn a PhD. My interest in land matters led me to CCSI’s Executive Trainings on Sustainable Investments in Agriculture and Extractive Industries and Sustainable Development, issue areas that I believe all those interested in community-led development in the Global South must study and discuss.

3.  What is one of your most memorable moments in your career and why?

One of my most memorable moments in my career was when my advocacy strategy championing land policy reforms in Kenya through the KLA network drew the attention of policy-makers at national and global level. This was especially meaningful because, while I was accused of inciting marginalized land groups, many people appreciated my passion towards contributing to land reforms. Since 2007/2008, I have been drawn into all major land transformation efforts.

4.  What major issue related to sustainable investments in land and agriculture are you particularly interested in at the moment?

At the moment, I am particularly interested in the extractive industries and how to optimize benefit sharing for host communities while reducing the attendant negative impacts. I am also particularly interested in large-scale land acquisitions in Africa and the regulatory frameworks for their governance. I look at what practices are shaping these land deals. Overall, I am focused on the nature of agrarian transformation and the political and economic analysis of political choices related to land.

5.  What was your main lesson learned from the CCSI Executive Training on Sustainable Investments in Agriculture? How do you apply this in your work?

My main learned lesson learned from the CCSI Executive Training on Sustainable Investments in Agriculture was the importance of taking a multi-disciplinary approach to understanding the policies that drive investments in agriculture. At work I apply my lessons-learned by hiring staff with diverse skill sets and attracting different strategic partnerships in order to further the understanding of complex issues that drive and challenge sustainable investments in agriculture.

6.  What advice would you give to young professionals in your area of work?

My advice to young professionals in my area of work is that agriculture is the foundational multiplier factor across development efforts, thus it is intrinsic and needs to be understood and discussed across a range of other substantive areas. Promises of agriculture improving lives are not fulfilled without upholding land rights for all. Land sector work requires a long-term perspective, so young professionals must be prepared commit enough time to gain a better understanding of the sector. Continuing to explore and learn about the land sector is essential, so I always advise young professionals to seek further training.