Chairman Muhammad Swazuri assures land owners after expiry of 99-year leases

Squatters protest at Lamkani in Mombasa. They accused private developers of using police officers to evict them. NLC has also done public reviews on land that was irregularly acquired and revoked titles of land that was illegally acquired.(PHOTO: OMONDI ONYANGO/ STANDARD)

At a workshop in Mombasa in January 2015, National Land Commission (NLC) Chairman Muhammad Swazuri was a cornered man.

Dr Swazuri was under intense pressure from activists, who accused his commission of being secretive on the fate of land whose 99-year lease has expired.

Although the matter of expired leases affects most parts of the country, it is particularly acute in Rift Valley, Coast, Central and Nairobi where most colonial-era land injustices were committed, documented and remain unsolved.

When the activists and local leaders led by Senator Hassan Omar confronted Swazuri, the NLC had just announced the expiry of the 99-year lease of a 3,000-acre parcel owned by the Criticos family in Taveta Sub-County.

The status of the lease held by the Kenyatta family for its 30,000-acre property was not known and Swazuri was cagey about it.


Asked by the senator to explain whether the two families had applied for renewal of their leases, Swazuri said on January 30 2015: “My position about this land is that neither the Taita Taveta County Government nor Kenyatta family has applied for the renewal of the lease because the law demands that either party can initiate the process within 10 years when the lease is expected to expire.”

Four days earlier, Swazuri said in Mombasa: “No member of the Kenyatta family has come up to make an application (for renewal of lease).”

Former Taveta MP Basil Criticos, a member of the Criticos family, has been complaining that NLC and Taita Taveta County Government have been keeping him in limbo since his application for renewal.

In an interview with The Standard last week, Swazuri said the commission issued a circular to Kenyans and foreigners whose land leases have expired to surrender their titles.

“So far only 20 have done so and we have issued them with new 99-year lease titles. Many are not willing to surrender the titles and we don’t know how many they are. We just depend on their goodwill to come forth,” Swazuri said.

He revealed the circular caused fear among the multinationals, with some fearing that their leases would not be renewed.

“I remember officials from the embassies of Italy, US and Britain came to us about the matter. We assured them that all is well and no one would be chased out of Kenya,” he said.

He disputed information that in 2012, the Government froze the renewal of expired land leases and sanctioned a review of those that may have been irregularly renewed.

“I am not aware of such an audit and information about it is scant. But if it ever happened, the Government’s directive will be unconstitutional,” Swazuri said.

He added: “The law says that those who legally own land should have their titles renewed. Freezing renewal will bring the country on its knees economically. Mortgages and the banking and insurance industries will collapse.”

Swazuri also announced NLC was having problems documenting absentee landlords, including those holding leases because “many of them live outside the country”.

Other reports indicate many 999-year leases were secretly renewed for 99 years before the promulgation of the 2010 election.

Most leases were to expire around 2012 but there are reports some were renewed secretly under the old law that allowed landowners to apply for renewal three years before expiry of the lease.

Under that law the Lands minister had sole power in decreeing renewal but the new charter says the public and county government must be consulted in the search for renewal.

Most of the leasehold titles at the Coast were issued by the colonial government between 1909 and 1913, close to half a century before Kenya’s independence.

Swazuri noted that change in the land sector will take a long time as many people are still not aware of the new changes.

He added that a majority of the beneficiaries of questionable land deals are resisting change.

“We have held public education seminars but it will take time to achieve the desired change.

There is also resistance by the old-order parties who resist change because they want the status quo to remain,” Swazuri said.

Swazuri said the commission has achieved much since its formation after the promulgation of the new Constitution of 2010.


The mandate of NLC is drawn from the National Land Policy of 2009, Constitution of Kenya 2010, National Land Commission Act, 2012, the Land Act 2012 and the Land Registration Act of 2012.

Swazuri said the agency was formed as the beginning of the implementation of the new constitutional provisions on land.

Additionally, NLC has implemented the national land policy and acquired land for Government projects.

“So far, Sh20 billion has gone through our hands to buy land for projects like the Standard Gauge Railway and other projects carried out by Kenya Electricity Transmission Company, Kenya National Highways Authority and Kenya Urban Roads Authority,” the chairman said.

NLC has also done public reviews on land that was irregularly acquired and revoked titles of land that was illegally acquired.

“In relation to reviews, we have so far handled 3,000 cases where we regularised land that was illegally acquired. We also adopt alternative dispute resolution and solved 2,000 cases using the system,” Swazuri said.

He noted there are many land disputes in the country which range from two years to 76 years. “For example, we finished the Waitiki land dispute and we are about to solve a 76-year-old case in Embu involving the Karukenya and Wainaina family,” he said.

He decried the backlog of land cases, saying many are adjourned for frivolous reasons.