• Land matters have remained unresolved for decades, leading to many wondering why successive governments fail to do so
• Human rights violations in the region are also a major concern that contributes to the feeling of alienation
This week, there was chaos in Mtwapa, Kilifi county, after a contingent of police officers moved in to apparently enforce a court order to evict squatters from a disputed parcel of land.
The squatters were adamant not to move out, prompting running battles between them and the police.
In the melee, police used live bullets and in the process, it is reported, they shot and killed two persons and injured at least five others, including a 7-year-old boy. Many others were also injured in the incident and property worth hundreds of thousands burnt in protest.
The local ward representative was also arrested and charged. Unfortunately, these incidences pitting alleged landowners and squatters are not new to the Coast region. Further, the running battles on land matters of land have also become familiar scenes begging the question, how comes the government does not solve land problems at the Coast?
Haki Africa has for years interacted with victims of human rights violations and underdevelopment at the Coast. As an organisation that is actively engaged with Coastal communities, we regularly collect views of ongoing concerns about security, development and human rights. Most people we have interacted with share similar perceptions of the causes of disputes, insecurity and generally their perception of discrimination and marginalisation.
While they believe the situation is not completely unsalvageable, they feel much needs to be done to get to the ideal. Key issues represent what to them are the primary sources of frustrations and grievances among Coastal residents that eventually contribute to feelings of being sidelined and alienated.
To begin with, land matters have remained unresolved for decades, leading to many wondering why successive governments fail to do so. All over the six counties of Coast, land is a thorn pricking locals from time to time. The land problems are as historical as the region and piecemeal efforts made at different intervals have failed to improve the situation.
Many claim the recent issuance of titles has been marred by controversies, where more non-locals were issued with deeds to land that belonged to the locals.
These claims have further exacerbated the land problem and the incident reported this week is an example of this.
Human rights violations in the region are also a major concern that contributes to the feeling of alienation – for example, the high number of killings and disappearances within the region coupled with lack of investigations and arrest of the killers thereof is a significant cause of grievances in the region.
Many people feel the issue is directly contributing to perceptions of being unnecessarily targeted by the security forces, thus breeding mistrust. The resultant mistrust, especially in the police, leads people not to report to them and instead rely on non-state entities for follow-ups, including politicians, religious leaders and human rights organisations such as Haki Africa. This creates a gap between the state and coastal communities. From the Mtwapa incident, we wait to see what action will be taken to deal with the killings and the human rights violations that occurred.
The majority of community members, particularly youth in the region, are underdeveloped, lack avenues to pursue their livelihood and a better way of life. Despite the government’s promises to address decades of marginalisation and discrimination, Coastal residents witness the ongoing sufferings within their communities and see no tangible action being taken by those in authority to improve their livelihoods. In some cases, youth are misled to engage in criminal activities to address their most immediate needs or simply to express their frustration.
In Mombasa, for example, there has been rising number of gangs and this is mainly associated with the lack of opportunities for the youth. In the Mtwapa incident, the locals were fighting for their source of livelihood – land.
Coastal communities have time and again expressed the above concerns, among others, including lack of ID cards, poor education standards and insecurity to the authorities. However, little to nothing has been done by the government and political leaders to address these issues. If the region is to be saved and incidences such as what was witnessed in Mtwapa not to happen, we must listen to the cries of the people and find solutions. This is the duty of government and it must deliver.