Government should address land grab menace with finality

The government should deal with land grab with a degree of finality. [iStockphoto]

As a praying country, doing what is right is central to who we are. A gentleman named Naboth lost his land to a land grabber. Read 1 Kings 21:1-29 in the Bible for the whole story. The land grabber was a king named Ahab.

He tried to get the ancestral vineyard of Naboth but the poor man said it was an inheritance. He could not give it away for any price. King Ahab was distraught. At the scheming of Jezebel, the poor man was systematically murdered and Ahab got the vineyard for free. 

Let us talk about land grab in Kenya. More and more buying and selling land, particularly in urban areas, increasingly threatens the lives of the parties involved.

Whether you are a willing seller negotiating with a willing buyer, knowing who sells land genuinely remains a gamble. Even with a title deed, someone can shockingly emerge to claim your land. Precisely land grab starts with this uncertain new way of transacting land ownership.

I am talking about the rising cases involving land grabbing. Recent media reports on communities finding themselves internally displaced because some “owner or developer” has turned up to claim the land are disturbing. We have seen women and men desperately appealing to the government to intervene in cases where the land they have always known as their own mysteriously turns out to be someone’s.

We have seen how inhumane demolitions have happened in this country with little support for residents to pre-plan their future. The recent Mavoko demolition in Machokos County bears witness to these horrendous activities.  People invest so much to buy land, probably take loans, and construct their rightfully owned houses and before enjoying the benefits of such an effort, the house is brought down because the “owner” is claiming the land.

Deadly networks

We have also seen cases in which fenced properties are invaded by machete-wielding goons ready to do a dirty job for someone claiming ownership. Sometimes, the authentic owners of such properties are caught unaware as their property is destroyed before their own eyes. Whether there is a history of bad blood between the owners and the other new owners is irrelevant. In a country where law and order are reinforced by State agencies, land grab is a crime that signals deadly networks that do not respect the law of the land.

A land grab is a forced takeover of someone’s property. The colonial regime grabbed land for itself which is why we still have the so-called “White Settler Schemes” in parts of the country. After independence, the government grabbed a lot of community land and turned it into public land since in Kenya land does not belong to the government. Over time, huge moneybag individuals have taken over the illicit trade of land grabs. If they see a property of their liking, either because it has a lucrative economic interest or it suits their expansionist agenda, that property gets earmarked for grab.

No justice

What disheartens is when the true owners cannot find justice immediately to secure their property. Indeed, justice delayed is justice denied. Land grab is carried out by financially able and networked individuals. The thought of legally following up on land grab cases should be the first and only option.

However, over the years, utterances from the ministers and now Cabinet Secretaries of Lands joined the public complaints that dealing with land grabs and land problems in Kenya is a nightmare. Not the maverick James Orengo, nor the outstanding journalist Farida Karoney, who became ministers of Land could eliminate land problems including land grabbing in Kenya.

The danger of the government itself appearing to either give up or get compromised is that a time might come when families will be uprooted from their rightfully acquired lands with nowhere to run to. Rightful owners of homes and property would be shovelled out of their vineyards.

This is a risky phenomenon to tolerate. The government should deal with land grab with a degree of finality.