Officials in central Kenya vowed to press on with a controversial land distribution exercise on Tuesday despite an armed attack on five men last week, in a case illustrating the challenges of resolving colonial-era conflicts.
A gang carrying machetes and sticks set upon people driving to a land allocation event on Friday and burned their vehicle, said Josphat Kithumbu, a lands official for Embu county, which issued the title deeds.
“Security will be provided to avoid any further attacks from hired goons,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“Planning has been done, titles have been issued and boundaries have been established ... What is happening now is just showing the beneficiaries their land. That will continue.”
Claims arising from colonial land expropriation are a source of many land conflicts on the continent, according to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.
Britain forced local people off 44,000 acres (17,806 hectares) of land in Mwea, about 100 km (62 miles) northeast of the capital Nairobi, when it ruled Kenya as a settler colony.
At independence, the Kenyan government took over the land but tenant farmers from local communities were never issued title deeds, said Japheth Nkanata of the National Land Commission, which was set up in 2012 to manage land issues.
Several disputes ended up in court and elders agree to withdraw the cases and share out the land to resolve the deadlock, said Nkanata, Mwea land coordinator for the independent government body.
It was subdivided and allocated in 2015, with more than 7,000 private title deeds issued in 2016, he said.
“It’s only people who went to court and agreed to withdraw their cases and share the piece of land who were supposed to be beneficiaries,” he said.
“Then people from other counties got involved and are now trying to stop those with genuine titles from (accessing) their land ... Criminals should be treated as criminals.”
But the governor of neighboring Kirinyaga County, Anne Waiguru, said that her community was unfairly excluded.
“Kirinyaga people will not trade off their birth-right in exchange for an unfair rushed solution to the dispute,” she said in a statement on Friday, adding that there had not been public participation in the “unethical” land allocation process.
“The unilateral decision of the Embu County Government to move into the disputed land is recipe for anarchy and chaos.”
Nkanata said the allocation was carried out legally.