| File Nation Media Group.

Coast historical land issues that won’t go away

There is no other place with the most heart-rending grievances of land as the coastal belt.

From the early times, even before the coming of the Portuguese, Arabs and Persians, locals have only known loss of their habitats.

Colonialism came and its wake left a grand problem that it seems nobody wants solved. Every institution with the constitutional mandate to solve the problem has failed.

Commissions have been established with lots of fanfare and presidential blessings, they have gone round the counties collecting views from the affected communities, and they have compiled reports fatter than the Holy books.

The reports have been shelved by the successive occupants of State House and no action they recommend has ever been instituted. Speeches have been made worthy of quotation, and optimism in the breasts of the sufferers has been stirred.

It is a predictable vicious circle and has only spurred the communities to dejection and a feeling of being trodden upon by the State. Landlessness and historical injustices that date back to at least a century have thus remained unsolved.

Successive governments have been rightly blamed of consistently underplaying the problem. Local politicians have all fanned this fire into action whenever they seek political seats.

Every time a new loudmouth enters the political ring, he or she comes up with the land issue to gain relevance but once in, they forget that issue altogether.

According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, more than 60 per cent of indigenous people are squatters on their ancestral land. Some people have entered into a kind of quasi squatter-tenant agreement with landowners.

A majority of locals blame their predicament on ‘upcountry landowners’ (wabara). However, past reports have shown that the process of land adjudication, consolidation and registration was not done in Coast after independence.

In Lamu, it is estimated that the indigenous local population owns only between 10 and 20 per cent of the land. Before the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution, all land in Lamu was owned by the government.

With no help from the government, locals retaliate by evicting ‘foreign title holders’ from their ancestral land.

“There is a close linkage between land injustices and ethnic violence in Kenya and that although land-related injustices have affected every part of Kenya, communities at the Coast, especially the Mijikenda, the Taita and the Pokomo, who have suffered the most and the longest,” states the 2013 Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission report.

“The failure of both colonial and post-independence governments to address the problem of landlessness is the reason individuals and communities often resort to self-help measures, including violence.”

In June 2014, Al-Shabaab militants killed more than 60 men from one ethnic community at Mpeketoni and Poromoka in Lamu West in what security officers described as ‘protest’ from locals who have been sidelined on the land adjudication process.

In the nearby Tana River County, several inter-clan skirmishes have been reported related to land problems, with the same in Kilifi, Mombasa, Kwale and Taita-Taveta.

Local communities had high hopes that the 2010 Constitution would resolve land injustices but lack of political will demoralised them. They have warned politicians against using land as a campaign tool in the next year’s General Election.

“We expect the same song when politicians campaign as has been happening every five years. This time we will not give them the platform to mislead us,” said Ahmed Juma.

“Land reports are yet to be implemented to address these injustices. The former chairman of the National Land Commission was from Coast, but did nothing to fix the problem,” he added.

It’s common to see bulldozers demolishing homes at night, leaving thousands of women and children displaced. This has led to the rebirth of ‘revolutionary groups’, such as the Mombasa Republican Council.

Ms Bimkubwa Imani is among thousands of people who were recently left homeless after their homes were demolished by a private developer in Diani, Kwale County.

“I have nothing at all. I spent my savings and left employment because of this house, only for it to be brought down in a few seconds. It is so painful to see this happening to us. We are being treated as if we are foreigners in this country,” she said.

More than 100 families were evicted from the 57-acre piece of land a fortnight ago. At least three churches were brought down.

The order was given by Maruma Holding Company, which Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya said had been allocated 900 acres of land.

“In 2017, Cheteni Debwe farmers filed a petition on historical injustice with NLC regarding the irregular extension of the leasehold, and there has been no response to date. It baffles how forceful eviction can be done yet there is an active petition,” said Mr Mvurya.

In Taita Taveta, squatters have for years been at loggerheads with three sisal companies – Taveta Sisal Company, Voi Point Limited (formerly Voi Sisal Estate) and Teita Sisal Estate. The firms benefit from the land while locals live as squatters in abject poverty.

The squatters and the sisal estates are locked in a legal battle over ownership of part of the land. In 2016, they sought help from the 11th Parliament. They have been complaining of police harassment for years.

The chairperson of the Singila-Majengo community, Selina Mwawasi, has urged the government to fast-track the process of setting aside a parcel of the land to accommodate squatters.

In Kilifi, another group of squatters is fighting to stop their eviction.

Residents of Bambani and Kikandale, who claim ancestral rights to a piece of land, got an injunction from the Environment and Land Court, restraining Vipingo Development Ltd and Vipingo Energy Ltd from evicting them in mid-January.

The residents said the companies have been using police to intimidate them to relinquish their ‘ownership rights’. The communities claimed they were issued with the certificate of title for the property and were in the process of mobilising funds to subdivide the land.

In Tana River, two people were recently killed in clashes believed to have been triggered by land wrangles. Two communities – Orma and Munyoya – were fighting over a piece of land that belonged to the government.

“The fight for land will bring more problems here. The land is under the government. If we are not careful, we will continue to have problems here,” said Coast regional commissioner John Elungata when he visited Madogo area in Tana River.

He urged local leaders to follow the right channels in handling land disputes.