|Elders from Kilifi County display their title deeds after being issued by President Uhuru Kenyatta at Kilifi grounds yesterday. [PHOTO: MAARUFU MOHAMED/STANDARD]
By PATRICK BEJA
Mombasa, Kenya: The Jubilee government initiated a crash programme to issue some 60,000 title deeds at the Coast secretly to insulate it from political fire.
Angry reactions from local leaders in CORD have, however, prompted President Uhuru Kenyatta to pledge to work more closely with them on the issue.
Despite the last minute firefighting needed to overcome political resistance, the plan has helped turn the issue, which hurt the alliance at the ballot box six months ago, into a minor political victory.
Uhuru and his Jubilee running mate William Ruto suffered defeat in the region during the presidential contest as their main rivals CORD played up the land question during the campaigns. Now they are basking in glory as they begin to chip away at their main political handicap in the region.
“We are going to work with you as we serve the people,” Uhuru assured CORD leaders. “We wish to end this land problem in the region once and for all. We do not want anybody else to use the land crisis… as a campaign tool.”
The crash programme that saw 60,000 title deeds for selected schemes processed in one month kicked off a storm after leaders in six counties affected were kept in the dark.
The ambitious exercise was carried out by the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development and involved the National Land Commission. Despite assurances by the NLC chairman, some local leaders claim NLC was left out of the picture. This exposed the Jubilee leadership to political attacks that forced Uhuru to lobby support of local leaders and residents. The President and his team say the titles are the beginning of a campaign to end landlessness in the region.
The new strategy appears geared towards silencing the grumbling leadership, with the NLC leadership being put on the spot and told to toe the line.
NLC National Chairman Mohamed Swazuri had explained: “The titles are old and the Ministry of Lands has been involved in their release and not the commission.” Dr Swazuri had confirmed that several governors from the region had made inquiries from the commission on why they had not been consulted on the matter.
But in the firefighting exercise to bring elected leaders on board, Lands Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu told Dr Swazuri the ministry was in charge of land matters and the commission should work in harmony. The title-dishing spree takes the President to Mombasa, Kilifi, Lamu, Tana River, Taita Taveta and Kwale counties from Friday until Monday.
Sources indicated the processing of the titles was allegedly being done quietly to catch CORD by surprise. But it ended up generating more suspicion across the Coast region than the government had expected.
Although the President and his team have managed to cool down tempers among elected leaders at the Coast, some say the secret processing of the titles has left a bad taste in their mouths.
The titles have been prepared from settlement schemes and adjudication sections where work had stalled many years ago, according to government.
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Mr Najib Shamsan from the Kenya Land Alliance, the man who went to court to enforce the formal appointment of Swazuri and his team by the president has warned that the titles being issued could attract a court battle against the commission if there are reports of discrimination in giving land in settlement schemes. “There were serious disputes in settlement schemes such as Mwembe Legeza and Ziwa la Ng’ombe in Mombasa and Kijipwa in Kilifi and we doubt whether this has been sorted out,” he said.
He said NLC should have been allowed to thoroughly vet the titles to ensure they are not just political documents. “The issuance of these titles should have been done independently by the commission but it appears there is political interference from the Ministry of Lands and has legal consequences. There are no county land management boards and this exercise may turn out to be a fiasco,” he warned.
Land experts warn that the other major challenge for Jubilee would be to acquire controversial parcels of land that are occupied by thousands of squatters at the Coast for formal resettlement.
In Likoni, an estimated 120,000 people have occupied a 930 acres owned by Farmer Evanson Kamau Waitiki who has been seeking to evict them. Village elders have begun collecting names of house owners on the controversial land but it is not yet clear whether the government has paid off Mr Waitiki and how much so as to free the plot from him.
Ms Ngilu recently visited Likoni and assured residents that they would not be evicted as the Jubilee government had earlier pledged to acquire the land for them.
Likoni MP Masoud Mwahima has described the Waitiki land as being at the centre of the constituency’s politics. “The politics of Likoni lies in the Waitiki farm because there are so many people,” he says.
Another challenge lies with the nearly 3,000 acre Mazrui family at Takaungu in Kilifi County where more than 10,000 occupants face eviction after the family won a court case to reclaim the prime plot recently. In Taita Taveta, authorities have been struggling to keep hundreds of squatters at bay after they invaded 3,000 acres of land belonging to former Taveta MP Basil Criticos after the lease expired on January 1, this year.
Squatters are also eyeing 30,000 acres belonging to the Kenyatta family in Taveta Constituency.
Ngilu says the 60,000 titles being issued by the president at the Coast were prepared from settlement schemes and adjudication sections that stalled many years ago following government political goodwill.
“With the current political goodwill from the president and entire leadership, the ministry has completed preparation of 60,000 titles for settlement schemes and adjudication sections that were started many years ago but had not been finalised,” Ngilu said in a statement after the meeting.