State assures landowners in Coast of valid 1908 titles

Squatters living on land owned by Hussein Dairy Farm protest during a planned eviction by a private developer in March last year. [Gideon Maundu, Standard]

The owners of huge tracts of land at the Coast can now rest easy after a State body in charge of land declared that title deeds issued under the Land Ordinance Act of 1908 were legal and binding.

This is, however, a big blow to thousands of squatters who have been living on the expansive farms in the hope of finally getting resettled.

The National Lands Commission (NLC) said the widely held notion by thousands of squatters at the Coast that the titles were annulled by the new Constitution was erroneous.

The NLC, officials from the Ministry of Lands and the National Assembly Committee on Lands now want the State to protect private property against what they said were politically instigated land invasions.

The officials warned that forceful seizure or invasion of the land by squatters or the State could spark chaos and complicate the decades-old land problems at the Coast.

Resettle squatters

“All title deeds issued during the colonial government, including the Mazrui Land Act of 1912, were ratified by the 2010 Constitution,” said NLC commissioner Reginald Okumu in Kilifi.

Okumu said land at Takaungu in Kilifi South, which is occupied by over 65,000 squatters, belongs to the Mazrui family. He said the squatters will be resettled once the State agrees with the Mazruis.

“The courts said the Mazrui Land Act is genuine. We are in talks with the family,” said Lands Chief Administrative Secretary Alex Mwiru at the weekend.

Mwiru said the government will have to buy several parcels of land in Kilifi, Kwale and Mombasa to resettle the squatters. The government, he added, was keen to solve the land problem.

Speaking during the commission’s week-long tour of Kilifi and Kwale counties, NLC chairperson Rachel Nyamai said, “President Uhuru Kenyatta is keen to make sure that the land issue will not be used as a campaign tool. It’s a complicated issue, but we are determined to solve it.” 

The squatter problem in the coastal region has been a thorn in the flesh of the National Government with residents complaining about historical injustices that need to be resolved.

Yesterday, Coast leaders who toured Kilifi, the hotbed of squatter skirmishes, over the weekend, said the only solution to the land problem was compulsory acquisitions.

“It is the bitter truth. As leaders we must be candid to tell our people the truth, which is that these title deeds are legal,” said Kilifi North MP Owen Baya.

He added: “The Land Ordinance Act was nullified and powers transferred to the Land Titling Registration Act. The 1963 Constitution recognised the titles issued under the Land Ordinance Act. The 2010 Constitution protects property rights.”

Baya, who is a member of the Lands Committee, praised the National Government saying it had made great strides in resolving the land problem.

Ganze MP Teddy Mwambire said they will push their colleagues in Parliament to allocate more resources so that the government can buy the land from its owners.

“It is clear the only solution to the historical land injustices now is through compulsory acquisition. We will try to push for more funds for this exercise,” said Mwambire.

Changamwe MP Omar Mwinyi, however, said the biggest impediment to the resettlement plan at the Coast was that residents were yet to understand the value of the land.

Compulsory acquisition

“We fight for them but once they get the land and title deed, they sell it and start claiming that they have been displaced,” said Mwinyi.

Kilifi North MP Ken Chonga said title deeds should not be used to ‘rob’ people of their inheritance. “It is demeaning that Coast residents are still begging for what is rightfully theirs. Because of the ongoing compulsory acquisition, people are now emerging with titles to claim ownership of parcels that in the past had no ownership issues at all.”

Lungalunga MP Khatib Mwashetani accused human rights activists and political ‘opportunists’ of misleading the public that titles issued during the colonial period were voided in 2010.

Mathis Dzombo, who claimed to be the squatters’ chairman in Takaungu, however, said he was shocked by the NLC’s declaration and vowed not to relocate. He listed old graves and trees as proof of ownership.

Ronald Mziki, the chairman of a community-based organisation serving four villages on Mazrui land, said over 65,000 squatters will be affected if the owner decides to evict them. “We have public primary and secondary schools, churches and mosques. We have the graves of our ancestors in this place. How can we be called squatters?”

In Kwale, the 1,000-acre Mbela Farm in Tiwi that was owned by the late minister Darius Mbela has been invaded by squatters. Kanana Farm, which was owned by the defunct Ramisi Sugar Company, is also occupied by squatters.

All private ranches in Kinango and Lungalunga sub-counties have been invaded.

In Taita Taveta, the land owned by a former assistant minister and Taveta MP Basil Criticos, and Kishushe Ranch, have been occupied.

In Mombasa, a 3,000-acre farm owned by Thathini Land Development Company has been invaded. The problem extends to Barawa Farm, Hussein Dairy, Kwa Bulo, and Lamkani.

In 2016, the State bought 930 acres from Evanson Waitiki to resettle squatters who had settled on his land. Reports indicate that while Sh1.3 billion was paid for the land, the beneficiaries were, in turn, asked to pay Sh182,000 each for their parcels of land.

In 2014, President Kenyatta revoked the allocation of 500,000 acres in Lamu to individuals and companies. He handed the land to the county to resettle squatters.