Mwakirunge Settlement Scheme

Claris Kang’ombe, a squatter at Mwakirunge Settlement Scheme in Mombasa, shows the defective title deed she was issued in September 2017. Land issues in the Coast region have dominated every election cycle. 

| File | Nation

Ghost of land injustices returns to haunt Coast poll politics, again

The twin issue of landlessness and historical land injustices has once again taken centre-stage in Coast politics.

Top contenders in the State House race have been promising to settle landless people in the region once and for all, in a trend that experts argue is geared towards wooing voters, as has happened many times in the past.

Contenders for local and regional seats, who also seem keen to milk political capital out of the land problem, have been whipping up emotions by reminding the electorate that they should not be squatters on their ancestral lands.

In his tour of Kilifi County in December, Deputy President William Ruto promised to conclude issuance of title deeds to residents next year and ensure that all outstanding land issues are permanently dealt with.

Dr Ruto said his administration would end the squatter problem and solve all the land issues across the country.

A few months after the Jubilee government took over power in 2013, Dr Ruto had promised that they would solve the land problem at the Coast, noting that it had been turned into a political campaign tool.

Nine years later, the Jubilee government is yet to conclusively solve the emotive problem at the Coast, though some residents have received title deeds.

The Jubilee administration also purchased the once controversial Waitiki farm in Likoni to end a long-running dispute between squatters and the land owner.

Last year in July, President Uhuru Kenyatta issued some 2,100 title deeds to residents of Rabai, explaining that he had prioritised conclusion of his promise to issue land ownership documents to Coast residents.

The government has issued at least 500,000 titles in the Coast region and about five million across the country.

Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga has also promised to look into the land issue and ensure that a solution to the perennial problem is found if he takes the top office.

A caseload report indicates that in the 2020/21 financial year, 343 land disputes, including appeals and petitions, were filed at the Environment and Land Court in Mombasa while 155 others were filed in Malindi between January and June 31 last year.

Residents have expressed anger at what they described as conversion of the Coast land problem into a power-seeking strategy. This came as experts dismissed politicians’ sincerity on the matter.

In a recent interview with Nation.Africa, Prof Halimu Shauri, a lecturer at Pwani University, said politicians had no plans to solve the land issue.

 “The issue of land is historical because there has been no clear methodology of solving it,” said Prof Shauri.

Prof Shauri described the issuance of title deeds by the government to some residents as tokenism.

He noted that politicians had kept residents talking about the same issue every election cycle.

Lawyer Shukran Mwabonje accused politicians of using the matter to whip up emotions among the electorate.

“Politicians use the issue of land as an avenue to enable them to join politics,” said Mr Mwabonje.

Mr Mwabonje said that in 2015, the National Land Commission recommended to Parliament a comprehensive Bill to adjudicate historical land injustices.

The Bill, dubbed ‘The Investigation & Adjudication of Historic Land Injustice Bill, 2015’, has never been passed.

Communication consultant Mwakera Mndwamrombo agreed with Prof Shauri, arguing that issuance of title deeds during the electioneering period amounts to tokenism.

Mr Mndwamrombo called on politicians to back all their claims on land injustices with evidence to avoid fanning animosity.

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