Land drama continues at the Coast

Besides the picturesque beaches and a booming tourism industry, the Coast region is a sad tale of land struggles, housing and shelter problems.   It is common to find indigenous families who do not know of any other homes elsewhere yet they are squatters in the areas they presently occupy.
According to data from the Kenya Community Support Centre, it is estimated that absentee landlords own more than 77,753.02 hectares of land. This is broken down land as follows:  Mombasa District 301 hectares; Malindi District 234.17 hectares; Kwale District 75,982.4 hectares; Kilifi District 1235.85 hectares; Tana River District and Lamu District are, however, unspecified. A report by the Ministry of Lands in 2009 said more than 128,900 squatters have been identified and registered at the Coast. Mombasa has had the lion’s share with 51,621 squatters registered, followed by Kilifi with 26,124, and Kwale 24,551. Lamu has 22,017 registered squatters, and Tana River 1,427.   Real estate developer Mwenda Thuranira says that the perennial land issues at the Coast is one of the reasons of the slow real estate growth in the region.   “Most developers will often shy away from controversial parcels of land and this is a big problem here. Most prime land have no titles and these are places that would have benefited greatly from the real estate growth,” he says.   This problem has partly been caused by factors such as lack of updated land administration and management tools and absence of policies to govern land issues.   As the population grows, the challenge will be to settle the squatters and allocate land for industrial development and provision of basic social services.   The land problem at the Coast is a historical issue spanning decades.   The report of the Ndung’u-led Commission on Land in Kenya cited the region as one where prominent families, who mostly live upcountry, own most of the prime land. But even as the Government is trying to fight the land crisis, this is a problem that started long time ago during the colonial era.   Many scholars say that while Arab invaders first disenfranchised the original inhabitants of the region, it was the Land Ordnance Act of 1908 that formalised the injustice when the first title deeds were issued.   This law, like the Mazrui Land Trust Act of 1914, continues to pose legal challenges in courts today, preventing the Government from addressing some historical injustices.   In 1989, the Government repealed the Mazrui Land Trust Act, which protected land owned by the Mazrui family on the coastal strip, and gave it to squatters. But last year, a court ruled the repeal was unconstitutional and returned the land to the Mazrui family.   During the successive regimes, land in the area was dished out to politically correct individuals.
When the Kibaki administration took office, Land ministry officials undertook an exercise of vetting land ownership with intention to formalise land tenure in the region.   The vetting was in line with the President Kibaki’s programme to resettle the locals and bring to rest the problem that has created disharmony between landlords and the squatters.  The president even issued title deeds with a directive to have all land owned by absentee landlords surrendered. This never happened.   Late last year, Coast Provincial Police Officer Aggrey Adoli refused to honour a court eviction order of more than 120,000 squatters from a disputed land in Likoni citing security concerns.   “Likoni is prone to violence, especially during election cycles, and indigenous coastal squatters — who are the majority — are likely to perceive that they are being targeted and displaced to pave way for the upcountry people to settle on their ancestral land,” Adoli pointed out.   Because of the volatile nature of the land issues at the Coast, Adoli pleaded with the court to seek alternative ways to settle the dispute and even requested that the Government take over the land, compensate the owners, and distribute it to the squatters.   Absentee landlords The absentee landlords have also been accused of fanning insecurity so as to evade the pertinent land issues.   In October, the Cabinet accused the absentee landlords and wealthy landowners whose leases had been reduced from either freehold or 999 years to only 99 years in accordance with the new land laws of sponsoring Mombasa Republican Council elements to unleash violence in the Coast region.   To address the land problem, the Government devised a plan to correct the error and in 1986, all titles issued under Cap 284 of the Adjudication Act that was applied to determine the right of the owner of the land were declared null and void, and owners were asked to surrender the freehold titles in exchange of leasehold titles.  An embargo was also placed on all affected parcels of land.   A look at the Sessional Paper No 3 of 2009 that was passed by Parliament in 2009 and a Ministry of Lands document titled The Current Status of Land in the Coast shows that a great deal of manipulation of facts has occurred because of rival claimants to land in Coast.   To date, the Coast is the only region in Kenya where the local people live on land they do not legally own.

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