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TJRC warned of ‘ongoing fraudulent land procurement’ in Lamu

COUNTIES
By Nzau Musau | August 3rd 2014
President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto flanked by Lamu County Leaders addresses the press on Land Allocatioins after the meeting with them at State House, Nairobi. [PHOTO: FILE/STANDARD]

NAIROBI, KENYA: The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission had already flagged off the problem of “ongoing fraudulent land procurement,” in Lamu in their 2012 final report.

The report presented to President Uhuru Kenyatta on May 21 last year said that growing commercial value of the land had further compounded the decades-old problem in the area.

It said the resettlement of Kenyans displaced in other parts of the country in the 2007 post-election violence added salt to injury. Indigenous communities in the area who were displaced at various times since the pre-independence era felt cheated.

“Lamu reached a boiling point after the government failed to address the historical injustices as well as curtail ongoing fraudulent land procurement in the area,” the report, handed to the President in glass-encased folder, states.

The report also drew the attention of the Government on the possibility of flare-ups arising from the multi-million Lamu Port project.

It says communities living in areas around the port complained that one of the ranches in the area, Enkamani Ranch, belonged to their forefathers.

“However, the head of Kenya Navy illegally acquired it and subsequently advertised its sale on the internet for the sum two million Euros (Sh235.8 million) on November 2, 2009,” the report states. It says the locals felt that whoever bought the land stood to benefit immensely from Government compensation at their expense. Locals also complained that the Government itself had misused its power to procure land in the pretext of public use while poorly compensating those concerned.

They complained that the impression given to them was that the acquisition of the land in the area was that a naval base would be built there. They said they felt duped when they recently figured it all out- that it was for Lamu Port project.

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SLEEPING AROUND

“Moreover, the majority of Kenyans from outside the coastal region were settled in Hindi Magogoni area now meant for the port and they were issued with title deeds. They now stand to benefit from compensation while affected coastal communities in the same area that have lived on the land for more than 300 years do not,” the report states.

It further says that the “rush” by upcountry people to develop the area around the new port was most likely going to “cut deeper into indigenous communities’ land” yet there was no clear provisions for compensation at the time.

The Lamu people complained to the commission that whenever upcountry people went there, they managed to quickly obtain titles when they (the indigenous people) have been trying to do so for ages.

“So upcountry people ...laugh at us and say we are just sleeping around,” one of the residents is quoted as having told the commission.

The report noted that there was a “prevailing volatile situation generated by the development of the Lamu Port and related activities.” The commission said in its hearings, indigenous coastal communities did not conceal their urge on the Government to take action quickly to avert looming conflict.

“Take a step before there is loss of life because we hear that people from other places are fighting each other but we have not fought. We know that a monkey is cowardly but when cornered, it can finish you. So we are like monkeys; we are cowardly but one day...” a local told the commission.

Locals expressed bitterness that they did not stand a chance to benefit from the Lamu Port compensation because they lacked documents. They compared their plight to the Mau Mau pre-independence struggle to rescue their lands from the whites.

CROWN LAND

“The war after independence was not because of elections results; people were just bitter from before and it is the same thing we are seeing here. This will later bring problems and will mess up the peace in the area,” a local said.

“If you keep on trampling upon people, one day they will look for a knife and injure you in the stomach. Obviously, the root causes of land-related violent clashes are preventable, if only the Government could take practical steps to meaningfully address them,” another said.

Away from the port issue, the report traces coastal land woes to the Land Titles Ordinance of 1908 where locals were required to make claims on the land which had been confiscated from them within six months. No claims from indigenous people were made for one reason or the other, key among them being lack of awareness.

 “As a result, 95 per cent of all land within Mwambao was recorded in the name of Arab immigrants, the remaining five  per cent being declared Crown Land for lack of claims. In what is now Lamu District, claims were lodged only in respect of the island. The entire mainland was declared crown land, later government land,” it says.

In contrast, Arabs were quick to lay claim over land along the Coastal Strip which was not originally theirs. Mazrui Arabs in particular, the report says, took most of the land in the coastal strip, leaving the indigenous communities as squatters.

Africans at the Coast had lost a chance to lay claim to their land, a chance which would create the basis for more losses leading to the present conflict.

The report says another major source of land problems in the region is the fact that land adjudication, consolidation and registration was never conducted in the Coast in the past.

Many indigenous groups have continued to settle on lands on which they have no proof of ownership. Compounded to this is the impression, especially among upcountry people, that the land in the Coast does not belong to anyone, the report said.

“It has made it easy for private individuals, Government officials and local as well as foreign investors to transact irregular deals leading to acquisition of land, whereupon the genuine inhabitants are forcibly evicted without compensation,” it said. The report further says that since the Kenyatta administration (1963-1978), land administration in Lamu was generally dubious and irregular.The original post-independence land re-distribution and settlement schemes only ended up settling “between 15 and 20 per cent only, than that of members of communities from up country.”

Before that, locals had lost land first to Arabs and secondly to the British before the era of “absentee landlords”, mostly outsiders, came in.

SENSITIVE ISSUE

“Although several settlement schemes have been established over the years by the Government, they have not always benefited the locals. The resulting squatter problem has been the source of a deep feeling of injustice. The land tenure issues remains one of the most sensitive issues as the local communities feel they were cheated by different initiatives,” the report said.

According to the TJRC report, most holders of the huge parcels of land in Kenya are concentrated within the 17 to 20 per cent of the country that is arable. It said “more than a half of the arable land” is in the hands of only 10 per cent of the 40 million Kenyans.

“That leaves up to 29 per cent of the population absolutely landless while another 60 per cent on average own less than one hectare of land,” it said.

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