Coast leaders and residents have welcomed plans by the government to seize land owned by absentee landlords.
Although many activists doubt whether the declaration of seizure will move beyond mere threats, they say the decision by the National Land Commission (NLC) could resolve the land problem.
Commission chairman Muhammad Swazuri said during a visit to Mombasa last week that the decision to seize land belonging to absentee landlords was reached after they declined to appear before the agency to justify their ownership. He said most of the targeted land is inhabited by squatters.
“The absentee landlords failed to come forward and the land will now revert to the government. That is the law,” Prof Swazuri said. He did not give the specific acreage targeted for seizure.
Mr Joseph Karisa, vice chairman of the Kisauni Land Lobby Group that has fought against the absentee landlordism since 2003, said landless residents are happy that the commission was finally taking action.
He said decades ago, they started paying the agents of absentee landlords Sh50 per space per month where they (tenants-at-will) built houses but the fee has since risen to Sh500.
“We got concerned that they were subjected to paying these agents all our lives and we wanted the trend to end. We know representatives of the so-called absentee landlords but we have not seen the landowners,” he argued.
Former Kisauni MP Ananiah Mwaboza said he invited a government taskforce for a fact-finding mission in the area when he was MP and assistant minister in 2005 which revealed that absentee landlords were exploiting locals.
Kilifi Senator Stewart Madzayo argued that absentee landlords and their agents do not deserve protection because their great grandfathers forcefully deposed the indigenous communities, leading to historical land injustices at the Coast. He added that this made locals to become squatters on their own land.
A ministry of lands report has indicated that absentee landlords have posed problems along the 10-mile Coast strip where they own 77,755 hectares (192,054 acres).