Raila Odinga, William Ruto plans for Coast land problem

DM leader Raila Odinga with Deputy President William Ruto during the Jamuhuri Day Celebrations at Uhuru Gardens Nairobi. December 12, 2021. [Emmanuel Wanson]

Deputy President William Ruto’s latest tour at the Coast has thrust land issues into the centre of the battle for the 1.8 million votes in the region ahead of the August 9 election.

His promise to revive the 1963 one-million-acre scheme and the Africanisation policy has ignited a political firestorm but critics term it as a fallacy aimed to hoodwink voters. His proposals came almost a fortnight after Azimio’s presidential candidate Raila Odinga said he will appoint Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho the Land’s Cabinet Secretary.

Yesterday, Joho said he will repossess all grabbed public land within the first 100 days if Raila wins the presidency. “I tell anyone who has grabbed public land to return it before Raila takes power. I will repossess all public land that has been grabbed in the first 100 days in office,” said Joho.

Kilifi Senator Stewart Madazyo said the land problems were very complex and most Coast leaders had resolved not to use it as a campaign tool but engage relevant agencies. 

“We cannot continue to point accusing fingers at certain people about this land problem. We must be part of the solution and we know Raila will deal with this problem once and for all,” he said.

Yesterday the chair of the Lands Committee in the National Assembly Rachael Nyamai also warned that land question remains highly sensitive in the country, and should be handled with care. She said that the new administration should sustain the “current well-thought-out resettlement programme” that has in the last years enabled the State to issue 442, 072 title deeds at the Coast.

“Some of the proposals being peddled around like the one-million-acre scheme and Africanisation policy are just mare fallacies aimed to entice voters,” said Ms Nyamai who is the Kitui South MP.

She said negotiations between the State and major landowners at the Coast, who have agreed to sell off their parcels for the settlement of squatters, were at an advanced stage.

“In Kisauni, the whole Junda Ward is owned by Taita Taveta Teacher’s Society that has agreed to sell the 110-acre land so that 8,500 squatters on it can get tittle deeds.

“In Kilifi, talks with the Mazrui family are going on very well,” said MS Nyamai saying some pronouncements could trigger fresh land invasions by squatters in the Coast.

The land issue that dominated the battle for presidential votes in Coast in the past elections had taken a back seat in this year’s campaign trail, less three months to the polls. This year’s campaigns mostly centered on the effects of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) freight services, and the transfer of port services from Mombasa to depots in Nairobi and Naivasha. But Ruto stocked the debate after he promised to revive the “one-million-acre scheme” and set up a land compensation fund to assist the locals to acquire land from absentee landlords.

The DP and Raila have also promised to settle squatters on abandoned State-owned irrigation schemes in different parts of the country. If he wins the president, Ruto has said he will review the land laws but the Azimio team says the existing legal instruments are enough to deal with the squatter problems in the Coast. Kenya Kwanza Alliance team will also use the compulsory acquisition if they refuse to sell. In the past most absentee landlords have turned down invites by the state for talks.

Reports indicate that the absentee landlords own huge parcels of land at the Coast and failed to lodge claims with the commission by September last year as required by law.  The Historical Land Injustice Law (the Land Law Amendment Act of 2016) stipulates that all claims were to be lodged by September 21, 2021.

Kenya Land Alliance (KLA) Coast coordinator Nagib Shamsan said some of the proposals advanced by Raila and Ruto have been tried but failed because of a lack of transparency.

“We have all the laws we need to solve the land issue but we lack people with integrity, enough funds, and regulations to deal with this problem once and for all,” said Mr Shamsan.

He said politicians have revived the land issue to stir up the emotion of voters. “If it is the revolving fund we have it but the problem is it is not allocated enough budget,” he said.

The revolving fund to buy land to settle the landless was first introduced in 1965 but later abandoned until 1972 when the late Jackson Angaine land committee recommended its revival. In 2016, the State used the fund, Settlement Fund Trustee, to purchase the 943-acre Waitiki Farm in Likoni, and issued 7,807 title deeds to the settlers on the land Other parcels that have been bought in a similar manner include settlement schemes in Chakama, Mwakirunge 1, Kombani and Mtwapa.

“We must define who an absentee landlord is. It is like any person who lives outside the country but has appointed a lawyer to collect rent is seen as an absentee landlord,” said Shamsan.

Mr Odenda Lumumba who is the founder of KLA said the country has no recent data on squatters saying the last census of the landless people was done in 1973. (See related story on Page 21)