Governors push for reforms to end historical land injustices, grabbing

Taita Taveta governor Granton Samboja and Mombasa governor Hassan Joho at Mwakishamba Primary School on December 3 / JOHN CHESOLI
Taita Taveta governor Granton Samboja and Mombasa governor Hassan Joho at Mwakishamba Primary School on December 3 / JOHN CHESOLI

Governors at the Coast have proposed measures to end historical land injustices, land grabbing and resettle squatters.

Kilifi governor Amason Kingi wants the National Land Commission to be disbanded and each regional government to have an agency with similar powers.

He said the commission has failed to address historical land injustices in the region and solve the squatters problem.

Kingi also wants the Constitution amended to turn all absentee landlords’ parcels into public land. The land, he said, will be subdivided and used for settling residents.

“We don’t want Coast land issues to be put in an Act of Parliament but in the Constitution, because no one can challenge the Constitution. The Constitution should state that all land belonging to absentee landlords must be made public land for the purpose of subdivision and settlement of the Coast people,” he said.

Taita Taveta governor Granton Samboja said discussions must begin around the strengthening of land commissions and enactment of laws that recognise community rights to own land. “In my county, the question of the legality of ranches that barely benefit my people is one that needs to be pursued, but within the confines of the law,” he said in a statement to the Star.

In Lamu, most areas are classified as public land, making them easy targets for land grabbers. This has led to an increased number of squatters.

shifta wars

Lamu county boss Fahim Twaha said the county government has launched a land survey to settle squatters displaced during the Shifta Wars in the 1960s.

Targeted areas for the survey include Mwambore on the Kiunga border of Lamu and Somalia, Mvundeni, Shanga-Rubu, Shanga-Ishakani and Mkononi. The survey also targets most parts of Lamu East subcounty, which was worst-hit by the displacements from the Shifta war.

Twaha said at least 5,000 squatters are targeted in the drive and it will allow them to be issued with title deeds before the end of this year.

Mombasa governor Hassan Joho said several suspects are being probed after they were accused of colluding with officials at the Lands ministry in the land cartel.

In 2015, the county said there were 71 informal settlements in Mombasa, with dwellers who live as squatters and a group of investors claiming ownership. “Public plots in Kibarani, Buxton, Makande, Changamwe, Tudor, Miritini, Bombolulu and Likoni were grabbed and allocated to private developers,” Joho said.

An NLC report in 2015 indicated authorities were investigating cases of 700 grabbed plots.

irregular ownership

In Tana River, the county legal office has been key in helping to prevent large-scale land grabbing.

Governor Dhadho Godhana is working on comprehensive legal and administrative measures to streamline governance, including issues on land reforms.

Owing to the threat of unrivaled and uncontrolled illegal and irregular land ownership in the county, the legal department is in the process of facilitating people to secure land rights.

“To achieve this, we are embarking on aggressive legal processes in the courts in Malindi, Garissa, Garsen and Mombasa,” Godhana said.

Kingi said land issues in the region were brought about by the 1908 land title ordinance and the Mazrui Land Act Cap 289 of 1914, which led to the community remaining squatters.

The Mazrui owns more than 10,000 acres in Kilifi. “The Mazrui community was our slave masters who captured our forefathers and sold them as slaves in Arab countries. They occupied Mombasa Island but they were ousted by the Sultan of Zanzibar. They resettled in Takaungu, where they continued with the slave trade,” Kingi said.

The Act was repealed through an Act of Parliament in 1989 and the Mazrui went to court in 1991. The ruling was issued in their favour in 2012 by High Court judge Francis Tuiyot.

TJRC report

The Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) report released in 2013 has been cited for years by leaders advocating solutions to the land problems. The problems include land grabbing, squatters, absentee landlords, fake title deeds, irregular allocations and displacements.

The TJRC report had established that colonial land policies and practices, first by Arabs at the Coast and then by the British, generated some of the land-related problems. “The TJRC further finds that land-related injustices at the Coast constitute one of the key reasons for underdevelopment in the area,” the 2013 report stated.

The report indicted the provincial administration for perpetrating land-related injustices and recommended they should not participate in any efforts to redress land related problems. The NLC was to commence work with the Ministry of Lands and settlement to undertake adjudication and registration.

There was also a recommendation to revoke illegally obtained title deeds to and reopen all public beaches. It had also recommended reparations for historical land injustices to be implemented by the NLC within 36 months of the release of the TJRC report.