Squatters in Coast face fresh eviction

Kazungu Katana goes through remnants of his house at Nguu Tatu village in Kisauni, after police demolished and burnt it during eviction exercise in November 2015. (Gideon Maundu, Standard)
Mohamed Wanje walks on crutches after his legs were broken in a confrontation between squatters and police at Nguu Tatu in Kisauni Constituency, Mombasa County, recently.

He is victim of fierce battles fought by squatters at the Coast as landowners seek to evict squatters spread out in coastal counties with no solution in sight.

Chairman of the Hussein Dairy squatters group Martin Chiponda said Wanje is one of the 3000 squatters who have survived 27 eviction threats from the disputed 460 acres.

These scenes have become common in recent weeks as authorities evict squatters from Mombasa, Taita Taveta, Kwale and Kilifi counties.

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“We have fought battles since 2011 to keep our homes. We are appealing for the president’s intervention,” Chiponda said.

Influx of squatters

In Taita Taveta, two people were reportedly shot dead recently as chaos erupted between hundreds of armed squatters and beneficiaries of plots in the disputed Taveta Phase II Settlement Scheme.

Police however say only several arrests were made during the chaos. Trouble started when surveyors visited the 2,000-acre land to identify plots to the beneficiaries only to be met by more than 500 hostile squatters who had invaded the land. The squatters claimed the land had illegally been allocated to outsiders at the expense of locals. Last month, Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya said there has been an influx of squatters in Kilifi and Lamu counties.

The governor declared the purported sale of land null and void since the buyers did not follow procedure. “I want to assure the people of Mwereni Ward and Kwale County at large that the county government shall not allow any outsider to take our land,” Mvurya said.

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Analysts say the moratorium was politically motivated because Jubilee government was keen on harvesting votes from squatters in the region.

State officials gave letters of allotment to unsuspecting squatters but after the election authorities unleashed a violent wave of evictions.

The office of the director of public prosecutions has tried to stop police from evicting 527 squatters on the 135-acre Lamkani parcel of land in Bamburi, Mombasa, in vain as homes were demolished last week. Rosemary Nandi, principal prosecution counsel, said she was stopping evictions, arrests and harassment of squatters on the farm to allow the National Land Commission (NLC) time to resolve the dispute with Gladys Njeri Kagiri, who is claiming ownership of the land. In a letter dated February 19 this year, Nandi noted: “Gladys Njeri Kagiri has been summoned to appear before the NLC but severally failed to comply with summons, causing the dispute to take long to resolve.”

Ancestral rights

Pwani Youth Trust Association chairman and chairman of Lamkani Village Squatters Charo Nguma however said while the letter gave them reprieve as it sought to maintain status quo, police ignored it and demolished structures last week. The letter was on the strength of another by NLC Chairman Muhammad Swazuri dated January 31 this year when he complained of police harassment of squatters on Lamkani parcel number 423 in Bamburi.

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“Because tycoons have refused to honour NLC summons, we appeal to President Uhuru Kenyatta to cancel title deeds for all disputed parcels occupied by squatters at the Coast so as to facilitate negotiations similar to the Kamau Waitiki one in Likoni,” Nguma said.

On January 25, this year, Mombasa County Executive for Land Edward Nyale cancelled a permit to Kagiri for construction of a perimetre wall round the disputed land until the matter is resolved.

“We are doing our best to resolve these conflicts. There is a worrying trend where people do not want to respect title deeds claiming ancestral rights to land,” Prof Swazuri said in an interview, adding that he has had more than 50 meetings in Kisauni in an attempt to resolve conflicts between landowners and squatters.

On December 17, 2013, the Office of the Deputy President wrote to then Mombasa County Commissioner Nelson Marwa over evictions at Barawa squatters plot number 350/11/MN. The then secretary for parliamentary affairs in the DP’s Office Ananiah Mwaboza, said the squatters owned the land since 1971 citing historical injustice.

On the strength of the letter, the Barawa squatter group chairperson Joyce Riziki now wants the president and DP to intervene and resolve the matter, saying they have since been evicted four times.

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Lawyer Yusuf Abubakar, who has handled disputes from Coast squatters also blamed politics for the evictions. “Political calculation has encouraged the squatter menace. Government has not been keen to settle squatters and only enforces evictions after elections for fear of being denied votes,” he said.

Observers say this was the case for the 930-acre Waitiki farm in Likoni when Jubilee acted in haste to settle the land conflict to win votes.

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