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State to seize 77,000 acres of unclaimed land

By Benard Sanga | Published Tue, February 13th 2018 at 07:19, Updated February 13th 2018 at 07:26 GMT +3

NAIROBI, KENYA: The state has announced plans to nationalise thousands of acres of land owned by absentee landlords in Coast after they failed to identify themselves or prove ownership before the National Land Commission NLC.

In 2015 NLC ordered absentee landlords to register and prove ownership of the huge swathes of land they own in Coast where landlessness and the squatter problem is most acute in Kenya. Most failed to show up and the order was extended twice but still not honoured heightening the mystery of who owns these huge land tracts.

Now NLC chairman Muhammad Swazuri has declared that the government's patience has run out and the land will be nationalised and reallocated to new owners.

"They failed to come forward and the land will be reverted to the government. That is the law," Swazuri.

Absentee landlords refers to land owners who rent land to squatters to farm, construct temporary houses and burial for a monthly fee. Most of these landlords inherited land from their ancestors or fathers who were allocated land after the 1908 Land Ordinance Act. Most are not known and live abroad especially in the Middle East and Europe and the rents on their properties are collected by agents.

A comprehensive report by the Ministry of Lands in 2009 revealed that absentee landlords at the Coast own 77,518 hectares with the problem being most acute in Kwale.

The report revealed that in Mombasa, which has the lowest number of squatters in the region, absentee land lords own some 301 hectares of the land in the county.

According to the National Land Policy (NLP) of 2009 600, 000 residents in the areas squatters in their ancestral land in the county because of the absentee landlord issue.

The NLP enacted in 2009 also reveals that absentee landlords own over 301 hectares of land in Mombasa County, 234 hectares in Malindi, and 75,982 hectares in Kwale and 1235 hectares in Kilifi.
It also indicates that absentee landlords who own nearly all the 80,000 hectares of land in the coastal strip live in Middle East in places such as Omani and Yemen it states.

According to Kenya Land Alliance Coast branch coordinator Nagib Shamsan the squatters are not allowed to erect permanent structure on the land.

“They (squatters) pay Sh20, 000 for the space and a monthly rate of Sh300 to the agents of those absentee landlords they have never seen,” said Shamsan.

In January 2015, NLC came under intense pressure by land rights groups in Mombasa who accused it of encouraging absolute secrecy on the matter of expired 99 year leases.

There are reports the national government and Lands ministry may not be having records on some of these parcels owned by absentee landlords.

Other reports indicate that many 999 years leases were secretly renewed for 99 years before the promulgation of the 2010 election.

By the promulgation of the new constitution most leases were set to expire around 2012 but activists claim some had been renewed secretly before the new constitution under the old law that allowed landowners to apply for renewal three years before expiry of the lease.

The absentee land lords and the squatter problem are some of biggest problems in the Coast region that has blossomed into a hot political potato for successive governments and a perennial campaign issue.

According to the National Land Policy (NLP) absentee landlords own 187,755 acres of land in the Kwale which is 10 per cent the 2 million acres of land in the county.

This, according to the policy paper has left 600,000 residents in the areas squatters in their ancestral land in the county.

The NLP enacted in 2009 also reveals that absentee landlords own over 301 hectares of land in Mombasa County, 234 hectares in Malindi, and 75,982 hectares in Kwale and 1235 hectares in Kilifi.

It also indicates that absentee landlords who own nearly all the 80,000 hectares of land in the coastal strip live in Middle East in places such as Omani and Yemen it states.

In 2015, the NLC the absentee landlords abide to diffuse tension or end the perennial bloody confrontations between land owners and squatters during evictions.

Swazuri said then that the NLC faced problems documenting absentee landlords including those holding these leases because "many of them live outside the country."

On Monday, Swazuri said he did not have a record of how many absentee landlords were at the Coast “because they did not come forward” but earlier the commission said 40 of them claim ownership of huge swathes of land at the Coast.

Swazuri said that individuals claiming ancestry to three absentee land owners came forward but were not able to prove how their dynasties acquired the land or if they were indeed related to them.

“We had people who claim to be relatives of three absentee landlords but they could also not prove how their ancestors acquired the land,” said the NLC chair.

NLC chair warned that land owners that were uncooperative have lost the land and that the commission will hand the said parcels to the government for further allocations

Swazuri said the law was clear that if land owners fails to prove how he or she acquired the land and title deed then the parcel of land reverts back to the government.

Meanwhile, the NLC also ruled that a majority land owners to be affected by expansion of the Mombasa-Mariakani road will not be compensated after it emerged they were on road reserves. 

“Those coming forward are on land that the government had acquired and paid for. Most of them are on land that was paid for as early as 1926 or 1954 and cannot be paid,” said Swazuri.

He said NLC was currently dealing with 22 land owners along the Mombasa-Mikindani stretch where he declared that 14 of them will not be compensated for the land.

“We will only compensate them for the structures but not the land. The government cannot pay twice for the same land,” said the NLC chairman in Mombasa yesterday.

He said that records indicate that land for the expansion of the Mombasa-Mariakani road into a six-lane stretch was first done in 1926 and later in 1954.

The government has started the acquisition of the land to facilitate the expansion of the Mombasa-Mariakani road which it says will cost Sh6 billion.

According to the notice by the NLC approximately 5.9 hectares of land is to be acquired to facilitate the expansion of the road, which a section of the Mombasa-Nairobi highway.


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