Dispute: Landowners say ‘professional squatters’ invading property

Land owner, Peter Gathuri (left) displays a map of his property in Mtwapa, Kilifi, that is now threatened by squatters. [Maarufu Mohamed,Standard]

Private landowners have protested the rising number of land invasion cases by people they describe as “professional squatters”.

Recently, parts of the Coast region, particularly Mombasa, Kilifi and Taita Taveta counties, have witnessed invasions by thousands of squatters laying ancestral claim to private property.

Yesterday, security officers said whereas some invasions were spontaneous and driven by reports of expired leases on some properties, others were organised by criminal gangs and incited by local politics.

Over the weekend, hundreds of squatters invaded 1,027 acres in Mtwapa’s Jumbe ruins in Kilifi, but were repulsed by police.

In Mombasa, police intervened in a stand-off between squatters and landowners in Barshabe, Kisauni, on Sunday.

Intensified patrols

Police said they had intensified patrols near land targeted by invaders, adding that people inciting locals to encroach on private property would be arrested.

“We have the list of these invaders and those who are inciting them. I cannot mention their names but very soon we will catch up with them,” said Kilifi Police Commander Fredrick Ochieng’.

Some of the property owners yesterday warned that the rising cases of land invasions were scaring away potential investors in Kilifi and Mombasa, and that the attacks were well choreographed.

“If you look at the video clips you will realise that it is the same group invading land in Mombasa and Kilifi,” said Peter Gathuri, who owns part of the land targeted by ‘squatters’ in Mtwapa last Saturday.

Mr Gathuri said the squatters started occupying his land in June, although he had a title deed and sale agreement showing he purchased the land in 2009.

More than 1,000 squatters clashed with police when they invaded the land and started to sub-divide it last weekend.

According to one of the squatters, who introduced himself as Fuad Said, they were displaced from the land 20 years ago by “influential people”. Mr Said could not however produce any documents to prove ownership to the land but insisted that it was public property that the locals had a right to occupy.

He accused police of protecting private developers, adding that the majority of the people who lived in the area were farmers who planted maize and coconuts.

“They have cut down our trees and the maize is decaying because we are not allowed anywhere near the farm to harvest. We are not going to let this continue and are ready to shed our blood if that is what it takes to get our land back,” said Said.

Ownership documents

The squatters insisted that some of the land ownership documents held by private developers were not genuine.

“We have followed up the matter and established that some of the titles deeds may have been forged. What we do not understand is how police are helping them to lock us out of our forefathers’ only home,” he claimed.

The squatters also claimed the Agricultural Development Corporation land was a forest in the past and that they took it over from the Sultan of Oman.

But Gathuri and other landowners dismissed the forgery claims and dared the squatters to challenge the authenticity of the titles in court.

“We are ready to meet them in court if they believe our titles are not genuine. When we bought the land there was not a single squatter,” said Gerald Mwathi.

The squatters however have support from some leaders in the area. Mtwapa MCA Sammy Ndago claimed that about 130 tycoons took the land under dispute and divided it after displacing residents.

“They came and started erecting walls around the farm. Where do they expect us to go? Our ancestors graves are here and we do not know any other home,” he said.