Politicians grapple with Coast’s perennial, tricky land issue

Deputy President William Ruto in Malindi, Kilifi

Deputy President William Ruto during a rally at Msabaha Grounds in Malindi, Kilifi County on May 25, 2022. The DP has pledged compulsory acquisition of land for resettlement, should there be need.

Photo credit: Kevin Odit | Nation Media Group

The perennial problems of squatters and absentee landlords have yet again taken centre stage in the battle for more than 1.9 million votes in Coast region.

The issues have bedevilled the region since independence and now feature prominently in the campaigns with Deputy President William Ruto committing to create a special kitty to raise funds to buy land for squatters.

Politicians vying for local, regional and national seats are keen to milk political capital out of the land question. While campaigning in Mombasa and Kilifi counties yesterday, Dr Ruto said he had agreed with local leaders that land held by absentee landlords would be bought and subdivided to the landless. The DP also pledged compulsory acquisition of land for resettlement, should there be need.

A 2009 report by the Ministry of Lands showed that absentee landlords owning thousands of hectares posed the biggest problem. Local communities had high hopes that the 2010 constitution would resolve land injustices but nothing has been done due to lack of political will. Dr Ruto accused Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party presidential candidate Raila Odinga of perpetuating the land problems.

 “What has he [Mr Odinga] done to solve that problem? In fact, it was during his tenure as prime minister that land grabbing was rampant. In our first term as Jubilee, we delivered more than 300, 000 title deeds here,” he claimed.

At loggerheads with sisal companies

In Taita Taveta, squatters have for years been at loggerheads with sisal companies and ranches while in Tana River, ethnic clashes are believed to be triggered by land wrangles. In Lamu, the land adjudication process is believed to be one of the reasons behind fights among local communities. In Kilifi, squatters live at the mercy of absentee landlords. During election campaigns, politicians exploit the land problem to whip up emotions by reminding the electorate that they are squatters on their own land.

Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi yesterday chided Mr Odinga’s nomination of Mombasa’s Hassan Joho as the Lands Cabinet Secretary should he win the August 9 election.

Mr Kingi said many senior Coast politicians have held the docket but with little benefit to the people. Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya said Mr Odinga did not address the land problem when he was in power. In Kilifi, Dr Ruto distanced himself from Pamoja African Alliance (PAA) candidates and urged locals to vote for only United Democratic Alliance (UDA) in all six elective position.

Endorsed Aisha Jumwa

The DP endorsed Malindi MP Aisha Jumwa for the gubernatorial seat despite the presence of the PAA candidate George Kithi in the rally at Msabaha grounds.

Ms Jumwa urged Dr Ruto to offer her rival another position.

“I am asking Dr Ruto and Mr Kingi to nominate Mr Kithi for a national position since I am the only candidate who can deliver this seat to Kenya Kwanza,” she said. Minutes before the rally ended, PAA and UDA supporters clashed, forcing police to intervene.

In Mombasa, the DP campaigned for UDA aspirants led by gubernatorial candidate Hassan Omar, Mr Hamisi Mwaguya (senator) and Fatuma Barayan (Woman Representative).

The DP held a town hall meeting with residents and industry players in tourism, fishing and marine transport. The forum led by Prof Hassan Mwakimako sought to find solutions to challenges affecting residents.

Locals demanded the revival of economic activities that were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and the establishment of an open skies policy to ensure flights land directly at the Moi International Airport to fill the over 40,000 hotel beds in the region.


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