Fishermen in Lamu, Mombasa decry grabbing of landing sites

Fishermen boat

Fishermen in Lamu ride in a boat in this picture taken on March 6, 2020.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Most fish landing sites in Lamu have no title deeds.
  • A recent report indicated that all the 40 fish landing sites in the region are yet to have title deeds.

Lamu fishermen have accused the county government and the National Lands Commission (NLC) of failing to protect the available landing sites in the region.

Most fish landing sites in Lamu have no title deeds, a situation that has resulted in some of them being grabbed with others put at risk of grabbing by private developers.

A recent report released by Simon Komu of the Lamu Fisheries Department indicated that all the 40 fish landing sites in the region are yet to have title deeds.

Speaking to the Nation on Tuesday, the fishermen said the fishing sector in Lamu has, for decades, been unable to expand due to lack of well-defined fish landing sites. 

Their spokesperson, Ali Abdalla, pleaded with the NLC and the county government of Lamu to urgently conduct fresh land surveys and alienation of all landing sites to have them accorded special title deeds to secure them from grabbers.

Mr Abdalla cited various landing sites such as Tenewi as among the areas that are suspected to have already been grabbed by tycoons in the region.

"Greedy opportunists have already encroached upon some of the landing sites here in Lamu and
evicted the poor fisherfolk. They have established hotels and residential houses. We're now worried that if the grabbing of these fish landing sites continues, the future of fishing is uncertain," said Mr Abdalla.

Let them conduct a fresh survey, put beacons at the landing sites, and get special title deeds to prevent them from being grabbed," he added.

Bakari Hussein, a renowned fisherman in Lamu East, which is the region's fishing hub, expressed fear that fishers will end up losing jobs if the matter is not treated with the seriousness it deserves.

Mr Hussein urged President Uhuru Kenyatta to come to their rescue and act on the directive he issued in November 2018 that all gazetted fish landing sites be titled. 

Grabbed fish landing sites

"I remember two years ago when President Uhuru Kenyatta ordered the repossession of all grabbed fish landing sites in the country. We urge him to visit Lamu as soon as possible and ensure the order is implemented. We want those landing sites to be well defined," said Mr Hussein.

Ms Halima Alwy, an activist, challenged the county government and NLC to locate, map and sort out all disputes involving landing sites in the region so that the fishermen's lives are not affected.

"They should recover the already grabbed landing sites and ensure all of them are developed," she said.

The fishing industry is a leading economic enabler for Lamu with over 6,000 fishermen across the archipelago, all of who risk losing their jobs if private developers continue to encroach on the various landing sites.

Mr Komu, the Lamu Fisheries Department Officer, stressed the need for the landing sites to have title deeds to safeguard them from being taken over by private developers.

He cited lack of proper documentation for the fish landing sites as the biggest hurdle facing the fisheries sector.

"We need proper documentation to help us identify and secure the landing sites. Many people like investing in the Lamu fishing sector. If all the landing sites are grabbed, fishermen will be left with nothing," said Mr Komu.

In Mombasa, fishermen in Tudor want the government to intervene after a private investor grabbed a fish landing site. 

The fishermen claim that the investor is illegally dumping litter to first secure a piece of land before selling it, a matter that has adversely affected breeding of fish.

Gombole Mwavita, a village elder who is also a fisherman in the area, said that this will adversely affect the fishing sector, which is a major source of income for residents in the area.

“He (investor) sends a group of youth to illegally dump the litter here using their carts. After the place is filled up, he sells the piece of land and houses are constructed,” said Mr Mwavita.

Sewage and filth

He added that their fish stock had greatly reduced after the mangroves were cut down to create space for more waste.

More than 1,000 residents of Bandarini area near where the landing site is located have also been affected by the sewage and filth.

Mr Mwavita said littering of the residential area near the Indian Ocean had become a health hazard to children whose playground has now been filled by assorted waste material, putting them at risk of water-borne diseases.

The residents said efforts to reach local authorities had failed since most of the time the residents end up being arrested.

“Our children are falling sick every day. Every time we try to stop them from littering, he reports to the police and youths from here are arrested and accused of harassment, which is not true,” he said.

The fishermen now fear that if the situation worsens, their livelihoods will be affected as fish will be unable to breed in the murky area.

Mohammed Tsuma, another resident, alleged that local authorities only come to observe the situation but take no action.

“This is the second time some of our neighbours have been arrested with no cause. We all know that the only dumpsite in Mombasa is in Mwakirunge,” he said.

Valentine Mwadime protested, saying that apart from carts, a company vehicle also dumps litter in the area regularly, posing a health risk to not only children but also adults.

We have tried fighting this but it is beyond our control. We can no longer eat from hotels here because of the bad smell and filth,” she said.

When contacted, National Environment Management Authority Mombasa boss Samuel Lpokoyoit said the agency would investigate the matter.

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