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Kwale, Taita to resist land lease renewals

By Bernard Sanga and Patrick Beja | Feb 1st 2015 | 4 min read

Governors from the Coast region, John Mruttu of Taita Taveta and Kwale’s Salim Mvurya have dismissed proposals to renew the leases of land that are about to expire and say these properties that are in private hands must revert to their counties when the leases lapse.

Mruttu was yesterday categorical that expired leases would not be renewed until squatters have been settled. The Taita Taveta governor said the county needs land for large scale investments. “I returned from India which I visited with the former PM (Raila Odinga) and many investors have shown interest to invest in our county in agriculture and exploration of mineral deposits, but the problem is land. We can’t talk of renewal of leases while we don’t have land to attract these investors,” said Mruttu.

And in the vast Kwale area where some of the 2,500 acres of land whose leases are about to expire in Kwale have been identified, governor Mvurya has already earmarked the areas for resettlement.

However, in an interview with The Standard on Sunday in Mombasa, Land Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu said that the Government will in the next two weeks roll out a programme to sensitise the local people on the renewal process involving expired leases. “Some of the leases are about to expire, but it should be known that leaseholders will be given the first priority if they apply for renewal. But they should also explain to us what they want the land for,” said Ms Ngilu.

Under the law, the Lands minister has the authority to decree renewals, but the new charter states that the public and county government must be consulted before lease renewals. Officials at the ministry say that even under the new constitutional dispensation, landowners have the first priority in when it comes to renewals.

The National Land Commission (NLC) says it will be involved in the renewal process and will work with counties.

NLC chairman Mohamed Swazuri, for instance, said the file of the 3,000 acres of land owned by former Taveta Member of Parliament Basil Criticos, whose lease expired in 2013, is with the county administration which is expected to make recommendations before further action.

Last year, absentee landlords were asked to disclose their parcels of land. However, some of them declined to do so, thereby complicating efforts to establish a comprehensive register, said the NLC chairman.

Dr Swazuri asked county governments to compile their lists, but up to now only three out of the six have delivered fairly comprehensive registers. “We asked the counties to give as the status of the parcels under leasehold, but some counties have not yet responded,”said Swazuri.

In anticipation of the expiry of these leases, private landowners are already preparing themselves, said Mvurya. “Land is a highly emotive resource that has generated conflicts over the years. Future development will largely depend on how the land question is soberly and comprehensively addressed. To jump-start the process towards resolution of the chronic land problem, the department (of lands in Kwale) was allocated Sh78 million for its development programmes,” Mvurya noted.

Some land that was fraudulently acquired was repossessed, said the Kwale governor. However, some of the landowners have challenged efforts to repossess this land and their cases are pending in court. Most of the parcels, particularly in Tiwi, Kwale county, are occupied by squatters who invaded the land ahead of the expiry of the leases.

“A comprehensive land audit was done to establish expired leases. Arising from this process, the ownership of several parcels of land has now reverted to the county government. The county government has issued a notice of intention to use these parcels of land for settlement,” says Mvurya.

In the more populous Mombasa county, there are ongoing efforts to identify land whose leases have expired or are about to expire.

Mombasa County Executive Committee Member in-charge of land, Mr Francis Thoya, says the county had identified 1,200 parcels of land whose leases have expired and forwarded the list to the NLC.

Thoya said most of the land, particularly around Likoni and Kisauni areas, whose leases expired last year, belonged to absentee landlords.

Most of these holdings are between one and 58 acres, and the title deeds were issued after the 1908 Land Ordinance that first established title deeds at the Coast, said the county executive.

“The former lease holders have to seek the concurrence of the county government. There will be no blanket extension of these leases,” Thoya said.

The NLC estimates indicate that almost a million people in the Coast are landless or are squatters, either living on land owned by absentee landlords or as squatters occupying government and private land. The subject of leases has acquired new urgency following the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution which reduced 999-year leases to 99 years from the date they were issued a century ago.

Lawyers Stephen Oddiaga and Abubakar Yusuf said land tenure regimes changed with the new Constitution. “In law, the effect of a document is from the day it was registered, so most of the leases issued in 1913 and 1914 are coming to an end,” said Yusuf.

Oddiaga said renewing some of the leases could drag on because “the process to renew them is very tedious, given it involves locals and county governments. That is why it is very difficult to believe reports that some of the leases have already been renewed.”

In Kwale, the Department of Land, in collaboration with the ministry of Mining will soon conduct a land resource mapping exercise.

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