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Sultan heirs, tenants battle over land

By Patrick Beja | Aug 11th 2019 | 3 min read
FROM LEFT: Tenants Salim Binsheman, Bilai Farah, Rajab Sumba and Suleiman Mahfudh after meeting land owners’ representatives in Mombasa last week. The land owners want them out of the houses. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

The long-standing land dispute between tenants-at-will and descendants of pre-independence Coast rulers (Liwali) who represented the Sultan of Zanzibar is far from over after the first meeting failed to resolve the matter.

And the more than 20,0000 tenants from Mombasa who have built houses on the plots owned by the Liwali heirs have threatened to demonstrate to pressure the government to intervene citing frustrations from the landlords who live abroad, especially in Oman.

In a meeting at the Coast Regional Commissioner’s boardroom on Thursday, the two parties could not agree on the value of the plots to allow the landlords to transfer the land to the tenants who have occupied the property for about 150 years.

The affected areas are Bondeni, Mwembekuku, Mji wa Kale, Kaloleni, Sparki, Majengo Sidiria, Sargoi, Guraya, Kiziwi and Ziwani on Mombasa island and Maweni village in Nyali, Mombasa North. Other areas are Mnarani in Kilifi, Maweni and Mambrui in Malindi and Old town on Lamu Island.

The landowners have threatened to hike monthly ground rates to Sh15,000 for Swahili homes and Sh30,000 for commercial buildings up from Sh11,000 each per month.

A representative of the landowners Seif Said, who jetted in Mombasa from Oman for the meeting, said they would only give up the land if the tenants paid between Sh4 million and Sh5 million for Swahili houses and Sh13 million and Sh14 million for commercial storey buildings. Alternatively, the landlords told the tenants to sell their houses at commercial rates and pay them. Mr Said, who was representing 30 landowners, hoped for a “fair and just” solution to the mediation.

“This is a continuing process and we hope for a fair and just solution. We are ready for mediation and we hope for an acceptable outcome,” he said.

In the meeting chaired by National Land Commission’s Mombasa County coordinator Edward Basire, the land owners were urged to review the value of the property.

Mwembe Kuku Welfare Association chairman Abdullahi Farah and former Mombasa mayor Rajab Sumba said the dispute was complicated and called on President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene.

No settlement

They were hoping that the Liwali descendants would accept rates set out by NLC after valuation but the first meeting failed to reach an amicable settlement.

“The meeting has asked the landowners to review their prices. We are so frustrated and urge President Kenyatta to intervene. We are considering calling a demonstration to air our grievances,” said Mr Sumba who represents Mombasa county council of elders.

Farah said tenants panicked after the landowners rejected the NLC valuation report released in February. “The land owners were lucky to get free land when the 10-mile coastal strip was under the Sultan of Zanzibar but they are frustrating us after rejecting the NLC rates. They have asked us to sell our houses if we cannot pay and we are worried because we have nowhere to go to,” Farah said. Mr Bosire did not comment on the matter for fear of jeorpadising the delicate mediation.

“For today, let representatives of the two parties speak. I will comment much later in this process,” he said. Mombasa County Commissioner Evans Achoki initiated the mediation following eviction threats.

The plots are in the name of former Coast ruler Sheikh Salim bin Khalfan and some of the titles date back 1908 under the Land Titles Ordinance Act. Former NLC chairman Mohamed Swazuri had explained at a meeting at Toanonoka social hall in Mombasa that the new land valuation roll was to facilitate the sale of the plots to residents.

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