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Why Swazuri is a squatter on disputed Kwale prime property

By Willis Oketch | August 1st 2019
Former National Land Commission Chairman Muhammad Swazuri in the dock at a Milimani court during a hearing of case where he is accused of corruption. [George Njunge/Standard]

Former National Land Commission Chairman Muhammad Swazuri is listed as a squatter on a disputed piece of land in Diani, Kwale, a lawyer has told a Mombasa court.

On Monday, the Court of Appeal heard that the land was the centre of a dispute between 700 squatters and Leisure Lodge and Golf Club Resort. According to the lawyer, the “squatters” were dozens of prominent Kenyans, including current and former MPs and technocrats.

On May 31, the squatters suffered a blow after High Court in Mombasa ruled in favour of Leisure Lodge. They, however, returned to court to court to challenge the ruling.

The hotel, through its lawyer Ochieng’ Oduol, has opposed the bid to overturn the High Court’s ruling.

“In all fairness, how can Prof Swazuri and other former senior Government officials who have put up palatial houses on the plot be called squatters?” argued the lawyer.

Hundreds of palatial residences are constructed on the disputed property.

Apart from declaring them illegal squatters, a three-judge bench sitting in Mombasa ruled that the title deeds the Government had purported to give them conferring ownership over the hotel’s land were worthless pieces of paper.

Equally nullified as illegal was the settlement scheme that the State had purported to establish from the land.

The dispute between the hotel and private developers dates back to the early 1990s when Leisure Lodge sued to challenge the illegal occupation of its golf course by squatters and local politicians who had laid claim to it.

The squatters claimed the land belonged to their ancestors and that the State gave it to them in 1986 after establishing a settlement scheme.

The hotel argued that the 18-hole golf course was legally allocated to it by the State in July 1991 and that there was no proof of a settlement scheme created by the State.

On May 31, three judges ruled that the title deeds the occupiers used to lay claim to the land were illegally issued. The court ruled that allowing the title deeds to stand would amount to double allocation and that the only legal manner in which the hotel could lose its title deed was if the State acquired the land compulsorily for public use.

On Monday, the squatters went to Court of Appeal and applied for a stay of the judgement to prevent their eviction. The State supported the application.

Lawyer opposed

Mr Oduol opposed the squatters’ and State’s application and accused the Attorney General’s office of promoting impunity and protecting certain individuals.

Oduol asked the court to disregard the application for stay, saying it was wrong for the State to help wealthy people pretending to be squatters.

But lawyers Wachira Guyo and Gikandi Ngibuini pleaded with the court to stop the hotel owners from evicting the squatters, saying this would trigger tension in the area.

“The demolition of over 700 houses should only be done after parties have exhausted all legal avenues available,” they said.

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