Stop invasion of private land now to avert anarchy

A section of the destroyed and looted at the Northlands farm. [Boniface Okendo, Standard]

Unless curtailed in good time, we are staring at a class struggle that may end up as a class war, which is worse than a tribal war.

When government apparatus stayed put as property worth millions was destroyed and looted at the Northlands farm, people got ideas.

They realised it was possible to be protected by state if their actions were concealed during the ensuing political discussions. It didn’t take long before another gang invaded a private farm in Kilifi. Over 500 machete-wielding people who claim Vipingo sisal farm belonged to their ancestors swiftly put up temporary houses.

A similar incident was witnessed in Naivasha, where nearly 300 people invaded a piece of land they were laying claim to and planted crops. The latest victim of land invasion is lawyer Gibson Kamau Kuria, as invaders try to push him out of a piece of land in Karen that he has called home for 14 years.

Land is an emotive issue, which the government must not allow to be used for politics. All major conflicts in Kenya in recent times, usually around election time, have resulted from politics of land ownership.

However, that has now graduated to politics of the haves and the have-nots. This has expanded the discussion to everything that the privileged have that the underprivileged do not have: jobs, opportunities, access to education, etc.

In the Kenya Kwanza manifesto, the plan to deal with squatters was to set up a settlement fund similar to the one set up to acquire land from settler farmers at independence.

A good precedent for settling conflict between land owners, claimants, and squatters was set with the resolution of the 20-year conflict between Evanson Waitiki and over 8,000 squatters. In 2016, former President Uhuru Kenyatta brokered a deal that saw Waitiki let go of his 943-acre farm for an undisclosed sum. The squatters were permanently settled.

President William Ruto promised to follow same precedent by acquiring over a million acres to settle land disputes at the Coast and probably in many other regions where such conflicts exist.

However, this does not mean the government goes easy on land grabbers. According to the Ndungu Commission report, now over 20 years old, approximately 200,000 titles had been created through systematic grabbing of public land.

Illegally acquired land has no protection under the 2010 Constitution and can be reclaimed as long as that is proven. However, this can only be undertaken by the state and not through politically instigated civilian invasions.

The unfortunate bit is that nearly all beneficiaries of grabbing public land are powerful individuals. The state must take action to forestall a new set of land conflicts. Otherwise, no one will be safe.

-The writer is anchor at Radio Maisha