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Experts: Why Uhuru’s Waitiki land deal is a bad precedent

REAL ESTATE
By Mkala Mwaghesha | January 14th 2016

Land experts and other players in the sector are concerned that last weekend’s official transfer of Waitiki land in Kilifi to squatters could set a bad precedence.

On Saturday, President Uhuru Kenyatta handed title deeds to the first 5,000 beneficiaries of the deal that saw Evanson Waitiki transfer his 780-acre piece of land in Likoni to the government.

But according to experts, squatters should be discouraged from arm-twisting landowners, county governments and the central government to give them land.

President Uhuru Kenyatta flanked by Deputy President William Ruto and Lands Minister Prof Jacob Kaimenyi issue a title deed to a resident of the Waitiki Farm at Shika Adabu grounds in Likoni, Mombasa County. (PHOTO: STANDARD)

“As much as Waitiki land case is a unique one, it might set a bad precedence across the country as people might start invading private land in the hope that it would eventually be sold to them,” said Ibrahim Mwathane, the chairman of the Land Development and Governance Institute (LDGI), a land think-tank.

Mwathane asked both county and central governments to firmly deal with such cases and discourage invasion of private land by squatters.

Alex Muema of Ndatani Enterprises concurred: “People might start invading farms knowing that the government will buy them to settle squatters.

Invasion

It only takes one leader to say, ‘Invade that land, the government will pay,’ for things to go wrong. That will be bad for the industry and the country.”

Waitiki’s land was invaded by squatters in 1997 and he has been in and out of court trying to claim it back. The government’s move has therefore moved squatters from being landless to landowners.

“Waitiki’s case is different because the invasion posed a planning and land administration nightmare. The location the land sits on is prime, which in other instances could have been used for other purposes. The government did not have any option but to resolve the impasse,” said Mwathane.

Kenya’s Coast has a number of parcels of land which have been invaded by squatters claiming ownership through ancestral lineage.

Other than Waitiki, other swatches of land that have been invaded by squatters include a section of land owned by former Taveta MP Basil Criticos. He has been in and out of court trying to fight ‘powerful politicians’ trying to repossess a 3,000-acre farm he has held since 1972.

Squatters have invaded large portions of his land, even as he accused the government of failing to settle squatters on 39,000 acres it bought from him years ago. The government, through the Settlement Transfer Funds, had bought 24,000 acres under Jipe Settlement Scheme and 15,000 under Taveta Settlement.

“The government’s move can only be good to other landowners whose farms are currently invaded if the government decided to buy the farms from them,” he said. With government officials involved in last-minute efforts to finalise the deal with Mombasa Governor Ali Joho, who also had issues with Waitiki not remitting land rate to his county, it became apparent that the deal was not the usual transfer of land from owner to squatters.

According to President Kenyatta, the 11,000 beneficiaries will each pay Sh182,000 for every 0.309 hectares allocated to them, as the government has used funds from Settlement Fund Trustee to buy the farm.

Must pay

“Let us not play politics and tell the truth, which I am going to say here. We must pay this money so that we can assist others with the same problem like yours,” the president said, reiterating the government’s plans to have all squatters pay the fee.

The bone of contention was the terms of payment, which had initially been set at Sh5,000 a month for three years. A latter deal saw the contributions slashed to Sh1,000 a month for 12 years at zero interest. The county government explained that the initial contribution was too high for the squatters.

“The Sh1,000 monthly payment to me is a very reasonable and fair deal that is manageable to most of the occupiers receiving their titles today,” the president said.

“The fact that the land is not free is a wake-up call for many squatters. People need to know that there is no free land in Kenya,” said Muema.

“They can have the comfort of paying for it for 12 years but it is still not free. In any case, they still have to pay land rates.”

Mwathane said that Waitiki’s case took a political life as politicians made one promise after another: “We know how land (in Mombasa) is emotive, and politicians kept giving false promises to squatters. At the end of the day, people forgot that the land belonged to a private individual whose rights to land ownership are enshrined in the Constitution.”

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