By Willis Oketch and Joseph Masha
A court case spanning two decades and linked to Mombasa’s colonial history threatens to leave over 10,000 families destitute in Kilifi County.
A court has ruled that they must vacate a 9,000-acre parcel of land in Takaungu belonging to the once powerful Mazrui family that ruled Mombasa in the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
The threatened families, some of whose ancestors settled on the land over a century ago, face eviction after the land reverted to the Mazrui Trust Land via an order of the court. This is after the government lost a case to the Mazrui clan which sued it 21 years ago for repealing the law that bestowed thousands of acres on the Kenyan coast to the Mazrui lineage in 1989 and converted it into trust land for distribution to the landless in the region.
On July 19, High Court judge Justice Francis Tuiyot declared in a ruling i: “All other lands vested in the said board of trustees for the Mazrui, by the Mazrui Lands Trust Act (Cap) 289) of the Laws of Kenya (now repealed) were also vested in the Mazrui, as lawful proprietors thereof, and to the exclusion of all other persons.”
The ruling suggests that the Government had no power to allocate the land to anyone else or “determine the question of the ownership of such land”, a ruling that sparked panic among peasants, squatters and beneficiaries of the allocations in the 1990s. The families camped at the local District Officers office in Takaungu on Tuesday demanding assurances they would not be kicked out.
Justice Tuiyot’s ruling has political ramifications in the Coast province where the Mazrui clan has exerted influence for almost two centuries with key members of the family holding key posts in politics, religious circles and business.
Ancestors of the Mazrui once ruled the port city after rebelling against the Sultan of Oman that laid claim to the coastal belt. It was when Mombasa was under the grip of the Mazrui clan that Britain extended its control to cover Mombasa and 470 kilometres of Kenya’s coastline.
The Mazrui were dislodged from power in 1828 after Sultan Seyyid Said reclaimed power in Oman. The Mazrui then dispersed to the land in Takaungu near Kilifi. In his ruling, Justice Tuiyot declared the takeover of the land by the government two decades ago was a “constitutional violation of the applicants fundamental rights to the property.”
The Mazrui Trust Land has claimed the extensive land parcel on which several villages sit for decades, despite its inhabitation by local landless people and several judges have featured in this case.
According to historical records the Trust has laid claim to this land on the basis of certificate of title No 409 of April 4, 1914 when the Mazrui Land Trust Board was registered as proprietors of the land containing 9,100 acres. The claim is also based on the so-called Mazrui Land Act or Cap 289 repealed in 1989. The repeal of this Act deemed all lands vested in the Mazrui Land Trust Board as trust or government land. Apart from the land in Takaungu the Mazrui clan own other parcels on the Kenyan coast.
If the order is effected, the entire Takaungu village, which historically, was a slave trading post run by Arabs during the 15th to the19th centuries, trading centres, hospitals, schools will be pulled down to pave way for occupation by the Mazrui.
The families who fear being rendered destitute were allocated the land by the fallen Kanu government between 1992 and 1995, and given allotment letters but have never received title deeds.
However, the dispute between them and the Mazrui clan is almost half a century old. The Mazrui went to court in 1991 when the government declared intention to share out the land to the local landless people after the repeal of the Mazrui Land Act in 1989.
Despite going to court to block the allocation the government went ahead and dished out the parcel to the landless in 1992. Now the ruling by Justice Tuiyot has ignited fear and trepidation throughout Coast Province where 18 other such court orders have been issued to benefit so-called absentee landlords owning 77,000 acres on the Coastal strip. The Mazrui family led by Abdalla Mohamed first went to court in 1991 and obtained a temporary injunction against the then Commissioner for Lands from allocating the parcel to anybody. It also got orders restraining the then Kilifi District Land Adjudication and Settlement officer Mr J M Mutiso from adjudicating the land in the area.
In 1994 a court in Mombasa cited Mutiso for contempt after it was established he was adjudicating the land despite the injunction.
Thereafter the case dragged on until July 19 when Justice Tuiyot gave his verdict. Addressing angry villagers at a hurriedly convened meeting at Kayanda in Takaungu, Bahari District Commissioner Mr Christopher Siele assured them that nobody would be evicted. Applicants in the case, Abdalla Mohamed, Khamis Mohamed, Omar Abdallah Mohamed Suleiman and others sued the Government on behalf of the Mazrui.
The new chairman of Takaungu Land Adjudication Committee, Eliud Mwavita said the court’s decision took them by a surprise.