Mombasa; Kenya: The 400-family-strong Mazrui dynasty has exerted immense influence on the Kenyan Coast before and after Kenya gained independence.
It counts among its members the late Prof Ali Mazrui, prominent lawyers, bankers, politicians and high-ranking Muslim scholars.
This influence and interests have often been in conflict with those of ethnic Miji Kenda and other Swahili tribes who believe this dynasty has benefited from preferential treatment since pre-colonial times.
Significantly, this could be the only family in Kenya whose vast land holdings are specifically protected by an Act of Parliament – the Mazrui Land Trust Act or Cap 289 of 1914— a law that many lawyers feel is redundant and objectionable.
But while defending their land fortunes, Prof Alamin Mazrui, one of the clan’s prominent sons and nephew of recently deceased Prof Ali Mazrui, claims that post-independent Kenya has hatched a conspiracy to snatch away the vast Mazrui land holdings by portraying them as Arab and foreigners.
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In a spirited defence of the Mazruis, the professor praises a member of the dynasty for “taking the bull by the horns (the Kenyan state) by daring to defend the land holdings”.
In a recent interview with The Standard on Sunday, family member Khalfan Abdalla Mazrui said the 9,000 acres of land owned by the dynasty in Takaungu in Kilifi and other parts of Coast was legally acquired and it was in order to protect it with an Act of Parliament.
According to Dr Khalfan, an ancestor Rashid bin Salim left Fort Jesus on an unknown date to build mosques at Takaungu and establish farms as the area was vacant because the region had few people then. Local squatters deny these claims and say indigenous people have always lived here.
“There was need to later protect the Mazrui land under relevant land Acts,” he explained.
When the Government repealed the Mazrui Land Act in 1989, the family put up a protracted legal fight and won the case in 2012, restoring the Takaungu land under the control of the Mazruis.
Critics argue that by identifying only the Mazrui for protection, colonial rulers and the Act itself discriminated against the Miji Kenda and other Swahili tribes.
The chairman of the Kilifi landless group, Mr Wanyepe Mrima, claims the Mazrui ownership of the large chunks of land was meant to bribe the rulers of the Kenyan coast to support the British during the colonial period.
“The British respected the rulers and did not care about the rest of the local people and so they enacted the Mazrui Land [Trust] Act,” he said, adding that transferring huge swathes of land to one family inevitably led to the dispossession of thousands, contributing to today’s squatter problem at the Coast.
Dr Hassan Mwakimako, a university lecturer at Pwani University, said the British government respected the Mazrui rulers and came up with the Land Act without questioning the consequences.
According to Mwakimako, the British totally ignored the interests of other tribes and families in coming up with a law to protect one family. Local people who had been subjects of the Mazrui dynasty in Mombasa, Kilifi and Lamu for decades were never consulted when the British handed this land to the family, he said.
“This is one of the most unfortunate things to have happened in Kenya. The colonial masters did not care about the rest of the people and only consulted the Mombasa rulers,” he said.
Most other scholars and lawyers are reluctant to discuss this matter out of personal interests. But a book on historical land injustices at the Coast, ironically written by Khamis Mazrui, a member of the clan, says the Mazruis are not ashamed of what they own.
The book, Mazrui Land in Takaungu: Historical Injustice, claims the Mazruis have been victims of vile propaganda and conspiracy to snatch away the land holdings.
The author claims there has been a conspiracy to frustrate the “powerless minority” – the Mazruis – by the powerful majority in Kenya – other Kenyans – with government support and alleges that the Mazruis have suffered “haunting experiences and sleepless nights” since the repeal of the Act. Khamis concludes that the subsequent settlement of squatters on this land is one of Kenya’s most grotesque acts of dispossession.
And the author alleges that post-colonial governments have always harboured hatred and a vendetta against the Waqf or Mazrui land properties.
“The Waqf of Takaungu is the only private community land on the North Coast vulnerable to the fulfillment of such intentions,” he says, adding that this land is validly held by the Mazruis under “certificate of ownership 409 (1914)” and as a Waqf property registered in 1913.
‘Arab and foreign’
“It is protected according to all relevant land Acts and more so under section 75 of the Constitution,” the author claims. According to Prof Alamin Mazrui, who penned the foreword of the book written after the clan triumphed over the government in 2012, the state had always threatened to take over Mazrui land holdings. He alleges that the post-independent Kenyan state has tried to alienate this family from the rest of the Coast by portraying it as Arab and foreign, then equates attempts to take away the Takaungu land to the alleged takeover of land in Mpeketoni by the Jomo Kenyatta regime in the 1970s.
The professor does not discuss the propriety of the Mazruis large land holdings at the Coast, but instead launches into a tirade of other so-called land injustices in the region created by the Kenyatta regime, a tactic critics say is a diversionary trick to avoid scrutiny of the family’s own role in the land question at the Coast.
“There has also been instances of individualist politicians dispossessing Coastal people in pursuit of their personal interests,” he said in the foreword, adding that the Mazruis must not be silenced into submission.