Why Coast leaders are not using land woes to woo voters

Lands PS, Charles Hinga [right] and Mvita MP Abdulswamad Nassir give a title deed to Mwanamisi Ali Hassan at Msufini, Jomvu in Mombasa County on October 21, 2021. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

The land question that has defined Coast politics for decades appears to have taken a back seat in this year’s election campaigns.

The squatter problem at the Coast has attracted little attention or mention in the election debates.

Some politicians say massive resettlement programmes across the six counties, and the issuance of title deeds have made the land issue less attractive to politicians.

Cases of evictions of squatters have drastically dropped, partly, because the 99-year leases of parcels of land they occupy have lapsed and the land reverted to the counties.

Likoni MP Mishi Mboko said land will not be a big factor in this year’s elections because thousands of squatters have either been resettled or the process to settle them is on.

“The 943-acre Waitiki Farm in Likoni was a big campaign issue because of the thousands of people who lived there. But it was addressed in 2016,” said Mboko.

In 2016, the State paid off Evanson Waitiki and issued 7,807 title deeds to the settlers on the land.

The land was invaded during the 1997 tribal clashes.

It is estimated that over 31,000 people live at the Waitiki Farm, which made it a fertile vote hunting ground for politicians.

“Other settlement schemes have been adjudicated,” said Mboko, adding that 1,754 title deeds for the controversial 626-acre Shika Adabu settlement scheme were also ready.

She said at Bububu I and II, and Vyemani schemes over 1,698 tittles were also being processed.

“This denies those who want to politicise the issue a chance to do so,” she added.

A report by Mombasa County Land Adjudication and Settlement Unit shows there are 26 settlement schemes in Jomvu, Kisauni, Nyali and Likoni sub-counties.

Further, it shows that Mombasa has 75 settlements with squatters including slums which host 62 per cent of the population. 

In Kisauni, squatters in Kashani, Gandini, Maunguja and Voroni informal settlements in Kisauni have also opened talks with Thathini Development Company. The settlers had earlier rejected an offer from the company to allocate them 1,000 acres of the 4, 320, citing it was too small for the thousands of squatters.

“Thathini officials have tabled a demand of Sh500,000 per plot of 10 by 100. We are negotiating and all the settlers are ready to buy,” said Mr James Kioko, one of the settlers.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

National Land Commission chairman, Mr Gershom Otachi, said the use of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) has unlocked the impasse of land problems at the Coast.

“We adopted ADR mechanism so that we can negotiate with landowners on behalf of squatters or buy the land using the Settlement Fund Trust for them,” he said.

Mr Otachi said cases of evictions and invasions have dropped because, unlike in the past, Kenyans understand and believe in NLC’s mandate to solve land disputes.

Other reports state that evictions done in the name of faceless absentee landlords stopped after the NLC insisted that those who claim the parcels should come forward.

Mr Otachi added that most of the absentee landlords, who allegedly own huge parcels of land at the Coast have not lodged claims with the commission 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, last year.

“We received about 2,000 claims from all over the country. We are conducting public hearings. But I can say that the absentee landlords have not come forward,” said Mr Otachi.

In the past, NLC said most squatters lacked documents to prove land ownership, which made it easy for people with title deeds to evict the locals.

But the NLC says it has powers to compel private developers who lay claim to the land occupied by people to prove how they acquired the land and the title deed.

Mr Caleb Ng’wena, the CEO of Genesis for Human Rights Commission (GHRC), said squatters claim ancestry to the land using old graves or old trees as proof of ownership.

“One of the best things in law is that NLC can compel a person to prove that he followed the right procedure to acquire the land. A title deed is not everything,” said Mr Ng’wena.

In Kilifi, the Government has issued over 104,000 title deeds since 2013 to date. 

Kilifi Ganze MP Teddy Mwambire said land rows at the Coast have reduced because the locals appreciate efforts by the NLC, National and County Governments.

“In the past, there was no clear plan and political goodwill to address the problem. There is a clear road map and we cannot start to incite people because of votes,” said Mwambire. 

 In Taita Taveta, Governor Mr Granton Samboja has stopped the eviction of squatters, especially on huge parcels of land whose leases have not been renewed. Most of the 99-year land leases at the Coast were issued in 1908 and have expired.