Time for Mazrui Trust to surrender ill-gotten land to rightful owners

How often have you heard administrators, politicians and even presidents tell you that they are going to solve the land problem in Kenya? Does anyone believe them anymore? We have half a dozen commission reports on the land question gathering dust, only accessed by foreigners or academics writing their theses. We are not short of documentation or recommendations. What we are missing is honesty, sincerity and commitment from the political class and aggressive activism from the dispossessed victims.

Politicians exhaustively talk about fighting corruption, but how many of them acknowledge that the rot in public life and the looting of the coffers have their genesis in the theft of public land. Generations of politicians since independence have gotten rich by grabbing land, and Mr Kenyatta knows that only too well. The thieves only turned to stealing from parastatals and ministries when the land bank dried up. 

The land question at the coast is well-documented, but the politicians only bring it up at election time. However, it was surprisingly interesting to hear Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi for the first time since he assumed office in 2013, speak passionately, boldly and constructively about the troubles that have bedevilled his constituents for centuries. His paper, submitted to the Building Bridges Initiative team, was also shared through national newspapers. 

Only time will tell whether Mr Kingi will maintain his energy on the subject after the handshake team moves to the next destination. For half a century, Kilifi politicians have complained about the landlessness and squatter problem, but most betrayed their people and were bought to silence with plum jobs or 10 acres of land.

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The history of the indigenous people in the county for the past centuries is one of appalling subjugation, deprivation and enslavement. With the arrival of the Arabs, they were forced to move to the hinterland to escape slavery. With the abolition of slavery, they attempted to repossess their land, but thanks to the connivance of the British and the Sultan of Zanzibar, the 10-mile strip was handed over to the Mazrui Trust. 

The 1888 and 1895 agreements terminated the land rights of the indigenous and half-hearted and mischievous opportunities for them to re-stake claim on the land by virtue of the Land Titles Ordinance of 1908 were thwarted by the Mazrui family who secured 77,000 acres for themselves in Central Kilifi, as well as gaining 95 per cent of Malindi. The British fully supported this land grab because they wanted to prop up the aristocratic ex slave owners and develop plantations. In the process, the indigenous were regarded as only suitable as labourers for the plantation owners. The Mijikenda then went from slaves to squatters or ‘watumwa wa siri’ (secret slaves) and even today, they still don’t possess titles or security of tenure.

In 1989, Parliament enacted the Mazrui Trust Repeal Act, which purported to pave the way for the adjudication of the land. However, in 2012, that was reversed on the grounds that the land was not Trust Land, but was now under the  Wakf Commission. The struggle for justice however continues and my colleagues at Haki Yetu, working together with the local land committee, petitioned Parliament this year over the matter. They then invited the Parliamentary Lands Committee to visit the ground and listen to representatives of 10,000 families in Takaungu. More recently, the same committee invited the Mazrui Trust to Parliament. We keenly await  the report of the Parliamentary Committee whose members include Owen Baya, the Kilifi North MP who has displayed great enthusiasm for the cause. 

The Mazrui family have offered to surrender some of the land with the proviso that the National Land Commission (NLC) should compensate them. They made no reference to the right of the indigenous to receive compensation for the centuries of enslavement and the expropriation of their ancestral land. One should expect that the commission would address the community’s grievances. On the contrary, however, NLC chairman Mohamed Swazuri, wrote a letter of approval to the Mazrui Trust to illegally hive off 2,380 acres as leasehold to Mombasa Cement company, a decision that has led petitioners to write to Parliament to have him removed from the commission on grounds of graft.

Mr Kingi wants the NLC to be completely disbanded. Meanwhile, however, the Mazrui Trust must not be permitted to retain vast tracts of land to dispose of as they wish while the legitimate owners live in abject poverty in a new for of slavery as squatters. 

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- Gabriel Dolan [email protected] @GabrielDolan1

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Land GrabbingMazrui TrustCorruption