It's painful to lose your home to bulldozers, so buy land carefully

A man watches helplessly as his house is demolished in Mavoko, Machakos County, October 14, 2023. [Peterson Githaiga, Standard]

Away from the tragedies in the Middle East, the news in Kenya this week was the forceful evictions of “Aimi ma Lukenya” plot owners in Mavoko, Machakos County.

Images of bulldozers and excavators pulling down beautiful multi-million shilling mansions are not easily forgettable, especially coming not too long since similar structures were pulled down in Syokimau.

Despite the original injustice of the invasions against the legitimate owner of the property, one’s sympathy still goes to the house owners who now must think where to take their families in this El-Nino season.  

For many, their life savings came crumbling down, never to be recovered, in that demolition week. Could the government have used more humane methods to evict these Kenyans? Doubtless.

By a weird coincidence, the day after the evictions commenced, many Kenyans were outraged when the East Africa Portland Cement placed a notice in the newspapers indicating willingness to “regularise” ownership of land that had been invaded.

Most people assumed the company was talking about the same land where the evictions were carried out. What they were not aware is that invasions into Portland land is not restricted to the “Aimi ma Lukenya” area.

Indeed, in the larger Mavoko area, once Portland land was exhausted, invaders moved into privately owned pieces of land and have been subdividing and selling the same. For Portland, there are at least two other pieces of land measuring well over 3,000 acres that have also been taken over.

These are the ones the company appears to have opted to go the regularisation route and avoid evictions. One worries about the negative precedent this sets. What is fascinating is that there are numerous Kenyans who bought land in this area, received “letters of allocation” from some land buying company as their evidence of title, and proceeded to invest millions in building family homes, businesses, schools and even churches.

In the “Aimi ma Lukenya” property, these buyers ignored the numerous “buyer beware” billboards erected in the area for a considerable time, warning people of Portland’s interest in the land.

There was also widely publicised litigation ongoing between Portland and the land buying company. Buyers should also have noted the dodginess of the transactions from the low prices that the plots were being sold; at times below half of market prices in the area, reminding one of the old adage “if the deal is too good, think twice”.

One also wonders why the buyers, despite planning to invest millions, avoided the use of professionals in the purchase process. A lawyer would have confirmed that title to the property reposed in Portland.

A licensed surveyor would have let them know that the plot they were buying was not recognised at the Ministry of Land’s Survey Department, placing doubts on the veracity of the title.

The advantage of using professionals is that one has recourse to their insurers if the professionals’ negligent acts lead to loss. I am told there is another “professional” you must visit before you complete the purchase of land in areas you are not fully confident in; the local drunk who has the full “copy” of what is legitimate and what must be avoided at all costs.

Bottom-line there is no excuse for anyone entering into transactions on disputed land and proceeding to develop it then blaming government when the caterpillars come calling.

It is not enough that one’s building plan were approved by government. When authorising construction, local authorities are concerned with the building plans’ compliance with building standards, not ownership.

Having said that, at some point Kenya will have to deal with the challenges of land shortages while so much land lies idle. The Constitution had required law on minimum and maximum sizes of land but that became too political it was abandoned.

This would have partially resolved the extreme landlessness that fuels the actions of many squatters.

The latter are often taken advantage of by politico honchos as has occurred in many parts of Ukambani and the Coast. While there is no justification for invading other people’s land, there is need for government to take proactive steps to ameliorate the ticking time bomb called land inequity.

-The writer is an advocate of the High Court

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