Thousands of Mombasa ‘tenants-at-will’ face eviction threats

An aerial view of Mwembe Kuku in Mombasa.  [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

A new drive has been launched to end squatting within Mombasa Central Business District and its environs. 

Mombasa County Council of Elders (MCCE) and tenants of absentee landlords, also called tenants-at-will, want the government to repossess land registered under Mombasa Liwalis (governors).

The tenants-at-will have built their houses on these parcels of land owned by absentee landlords and pay rates to the landlords’ agents.

About 15,000 families representing more than 100,000 residents are threatened with eviction, following a disagreement with the registered landowners.

The tenants, backed by MCCE want the government to repossess the disputed parcels in Mvita and Nyali constituencies from the beneficiaries of former Liwali Salim Bin Salim Elbusaidi.

They argue that Elbusaidi held the land in trust for the indigenous people, but the parcels were later irregularly registered as private properties through the Kadhis courts.

The absentee landlords have refused to sell the parcels to the tenants-at-will who proposed a rate of Sh400,000 per parcel.

A team from the National Land Commission had also proposed Sh500,000.

However, the landowners insist on selling the parcels at between Sh8 million and Sh14 million but, the house owners said the rates are too high.

Recently, the land beneficiaries raised the monthly ground rent from Sh300 to Sh35,000.

The move was meant to push the reluctant homeowners to purchase the land or move out.

In Mombasa, the affected areas are Bondeni, Mwembekuku, Mji wa Kale, Kaloleni, Sparki, Majengo Sidiria, Sarigoi, Guraya, Kiziwi and Ziwani on Mombasa island and Maweni village in Nyali.

Other areas are Mnarani in Kilifi, Maweni and Mambrui in Malindi and Old Town in Lamu.

The ‘house owners without land’ led by their chair, Abdullahi Farah and MCCE coordinator and former Mombasa mayor, Rajab Sumba, recently started negotiations with the representative of the Liwali descendants from Oman, but the talks collapsed.

Former Mombasa Mayor, Rajab Sumba during an interview at his house in Majengo, Mombasa County. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

Presented memorandum

Mombasa county NLC coordinator,  Edward Bosire had presided over the arbitration process.

Yesterday, Farah said he presented a memorandum to the NLC offices in Nairobi, last month, asking the new team to offer assistance as a matter of urgency.

“I handed the memorandum to the commission offices last month and we are waiting to hear from them.

“We want the new commissioners to take up from where former commissioners under Muhammad Swazuri left off and ensure the house owners get the land. We were told the matter would be handled by commissioner Kazungu Kambi,” Farah said.

But, Kambi, who is former Cabinet Secretary for Labour, said yesterday the matter has not been brought to his attention at the commission.

“I cannot say anything about the ‘tenants at will’ in Mombasa because their petition has not been placed before me.

“We are in a full commission and I am not aware of that matter yet,” he said.

In the memorandum, the residents cited plot numbers block 232/XVII, 219/XVII, 54/XLV, 1068/XVII on Mombasa island and plot number 623/MN in Nyali as being disputed.

The residents said the Crown Land Ordinance of 1902, Land Titles Ordinance of 1908 and Crown Land Ordinance of 1915 provided laws, where the inhabitants of the crown land could lay claim to the land.

However, due to illiteracy among most locals, the titles were issued to Sheikh Salim Bin Khalfan Elbusaidi in his capacity as Liwali (governor) of Mombasa on behalf of the indigenous people.

A section of Mwembe Kuku in Mombasa. [Omondi Onyango, Standard]

Eviction notices

“After his death, and due to the fact that the local inhabitants were illiterate, Sheikh Salim Bin Khalfan Elbusaidi heirs converted the properties from public trust to private trust, through administration in the kadhis courts…” said the memorandum in part.

The tenants noted that the matter became complicated after the land was subdivided and the beneficiaries gave eviction notices to the occupants, who cannot purchase the properties at market rates.

Sumba called on the government to repossess all the land that was once held in trust for the people of Coast by the Liwalis.

“Our argument is that the Liwalis starting from Salim Bin Khalfan Elbusaidi held our land in trust, but was irregularly registered as private land.

“Again, when Kenya’s prime minister Jomo Kenyatta and Zanzibar prime minister Mohamed Shamte signed an agreement on the Kenya Protectorate, the people of Coast and their land reverted to Kenya and hence the Liwali descendants should have surrendered it from that time,” he said.