Wanton grabbing of land in Lamu raises concern

Structures belonging to squatters settling on government land at Hidabo area in Lamu County.

In the Hidabo area of Lamu Island, a visitor will spot temporary structures and makeshift tents.

One might confuse the scene with a camp for internally displaced people.

But these are squatters who have encroached on the area considered government land.

The Lamu county commissioner’s official residence is in the area, and the planned official governor’s residence will be built there.

The area also hosts the offices of the Public Works department and other county and national government offices.

But squatters say the land belonged to their ancestors and they have the right to settle there.

“We don’t have any other place to call home. We were born and raised here. Some of our fathers and forefathers were even buried here. This is our ancestral land and we won’t move an inch,” said Aboud Omar.

Another squatter, Halima Badi, said their hope is now pegged on Governor Issa Timamy government. They want him to help demarcate the land at Hidabo and issue them title deeds.

“As you can see, very few of us here have permanent structures. Most of us live in temporary huts and makeshift tents,” Ms Badi said.

“We are worried about developing the land and later being ordered to vacate. We need assurance. We need title deeds to enable us to develop these lands and our lives.”

But their hopes were dashed after the state ordered them to vacate the land immediately.

Lamu County Commissioner Irungu Macharia put on notice land grabbers and encroachers following renewed invasions of government land in the region.

He said grabbers had even encroached on his residence.

“Some people are very daring. You can imagine an individual encroaching on my residential plot, a government land,” Mr Macharia said.

“I want to tell those who have encroached on the county commissioner’s area of residence and any other government land in Lamu that your days are numbered. You either vacate wilfully or you’re evicted forcefully.”

He said some lands in the county intended for state projects were occupied by squatters, with the encroachers expecting compensation from the government.

“There is a growing trend by land grabbers who are targeting public land, thinking they can get away with it. Be warned that we shall not hesitate to take action against any suspected land grabbers targeting government land,” he said.

Governor Timamy also lamented the encroachment. He urged authorities to evict or arrest and prosecute grabbers of government land.

“These encroachers directly contribute to the continuous land injustices in Lamu. Let all of them be brought to book and prosecuted altogether so that they can serve as an example to others. People should respect government lands no matter what,” Mr Timamy said.

The statements come as Lamu County faces many cases of land grabbing, particularly by tycoons and moneyed individuals who are taking advantage of the multibillion-shilling Lapsset project to try to enrich themselves further.

The port was commissioned by retired President Uhuru Kenyatta on May 20, 2021, sparking a frenzy among land speculators.

Most land in Lamu has not been demarcated and title deeds issued, making it a target for grabbers.

Almost 60 percent of the land in the region is still listed as public.