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Malindi in the grip of raging land disputes

By | July 9th 2011

By Biketi Kikechi

The Chembe Kibabamche coastline in Malindi does not boast wide sand beaches that attract thousands of rich tourists from Western Europe, but it has perhaps the highest number of disputes involving prominent local and foreign investors.

Land ownership cases at Chembe Kibabamche in Malindi affect both the mighty and ordinary folk all fighting for ownership of plots having multiple ownership documents whose authenticity is subjected to long court battles.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga appeared in a Malindi Court late last month to fend off claims that he allegedly sold a beach plot to a foreign investor and later claimed ownership of the same plot.

Raila told High Court Judge Hellen Omondi that he and his wife Ida own Kang’o Enterprise Ltd and had never sold the plot to a foreigner.

The investor John Frazer Unsworth had sued Kang’o and a squatter Ramia Alex Chakacha over the parcel of land at the controversial Chembe Kibabamche scheme.

On Wednesday, Makadara MP Gideon Mbuvi aka Sonko and activist Stanley Livondo were on the streets of Malindi protesting over plots allegedly grabbed from one of the most prominent Italian investors in Malindi.

Last year, the famous Marine Land, a tourist site managed and run by the Kenya Wildlife Services, was mysteriously sold to a famous Italian investor who formerly owned the Renault Formulae One racing team. The land, however, later reverted to Malindi Municipal Council.

Multiple allocations of title deeds by the Ministry of Lands, duplication of land ownership documents by unscrupulous land speculators, and fraud has made Chembe Kibabamshe a melting pot of land disputes whose consequences could be far reaching.

“The lid on the boiling pot will soon explode unless something is urgently done here, because politicians have colluded with the Ministry of Lands in Nairobi, the Lands Registry in Kilifi to forcefully take away undeveloped pieces of land from rightful owners,” said Malindi Mayor Samson Mapinga.

Obsolete titles

At the Kilifi Land Registry, plots with obsolete titles have been allocated new leases opening new court battles.

Malindi District Officer 1, Joseph Chepkwony described the problem as a time bomb whose effects would be felt far and wide.

Chepkwony recently told The Standard On Saturday that the question of land in Malindi is very emotive, specifically in Kilifi Jimba and Chembe Kibabamshe.

He says the problem dates back to the time Kanu was in power, and has since been aggravated by successive regimes – the Narc Coalition that took over power in 2003 and now the Grand Coalition Government.

“The problem was double allocations and people had different title deeds for one plot. More than two titles in one shamba (farm) and yet the Government regulation is one title deed for one plot,” said Chepkwony. Owing to the double allocations, the Ministry of Lands, under former Lands Minister Kivutha Kibwana (Narc Government), commissioned a task force to verify those holding genuine titles.

The task force that included officers from Ardhi House in Nairobi and the local land committee, collected information from each claimant and concluded its work but did not resolve the problem.

In 2009, the ministry, under its current minister James Orengo, formed yet another task force, which concluded its work last year and submitted its report.

But only the DC’s office in Malindi, the Lands Registrar Kilifi and those identified and considered to hold genuine land title deeds got copies of the report.

What followed was another round of quick transfers of land at the Kilifi Lands registry between the cleared owners comprising mainly of registered companies owned by politicians and businessmen from Nairobi.

Mombasa Mayor Mapinga traces the land dispute in Chembe and Kilifi Jimba to the 1970s when Land officers posted to work in Kilifi from Nairobi grabbed beach plots and allocated themselves title deeds.

He claims one of those officers still holds a large number of beach plots although he had also disposed a number of them to Italian investors.

“The report has not been officially released to date but the problem is that local owners and other investors are not allowed to conduct searches at the Lands Registry in Kilifi,” said Mapinga.

He says officials at the ministry claim all files with disputes were forwarded to Ardhi House in Nairobi.

“I informed the MP about the complains but he told me not to worry because the task force did its work and everything will be resolved, and yet the Lands office in Kilifi is said to be giving out new leases,” said Mapinga.

To make matters worse, new developers have started putting up hotels and villas in the area despite a court order obtained by the Malindi Municipal Council stopping any development at Chembe Kibabamche and Kilifi Jimba being in force.

“Despite the embargo, plot transaction is going on and new leases are being given out even for land with court cases,” laments Mapinga.

And he adds: “We have sought the intervention of the Provincial Administration, but they have not been of assistance because they are part of the problem as they have been sending policemen to protect those undertaking illegal constructions,” said Mapinga.

The mayor said he had raised the issue with Malindi DO Josephenie Njenga, who allegedly told him the officers had been deployed to guard the plots by the District Commissioner.

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