Keep Your Titles; Give Us Our Land

| Owen Yaa Baya

 

The Mau Mau in Kenya fought for land and they got it. Shujaa Mekatili wa Menza and her compatriots fought for land but they did not get it. When they thought they had it in their hands and it was time to rest, new Mr. Champions emerged, whose trickery was more dangerous because they held documents called title deeds that took away what the heroine and her people fought for.

Today, the daughters and sons of Mekatilili are settled on the land of their forefathers but have a new title: “squatters”. It is a title that can only change when someone in Nairobi says “yes, that is your land” and provides a title deed.

President Uhuru Kenyatta descends into Mombasa followed by a Kenya Police plane carrying 60,000 land titles to be issued to squatters. Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho and his men gather to decry the move to dish out titles, as one Dr. Muhamud Swazuri, the Chairman of the National Lands Commission says with certainty that his commission does not know anything about the business. He adds that some of those titles probably started being processed in the ‘80s.

Then the Lands Housing and Urban Development Principal Secretary enters the fray saying due diligence has been done with the full involvement of the local people. But wait a minute PS Mariamu, how was the consultation done with full involvement with the local people if their elected leaders know nothing about the exercise? Maybe it was done on Facebook, Whatsapp or Twitter? Or probably via personal calls to the beneficiaries and chiefs and assistant chiefs? Maybe county commissioners were consulted?

Integrity issues have repeatedly been raised about the goings on at Ardhi house. If the same Ardhi house processed these documents in just a few days, then chances are the information used to come up with the titles is highly suspect.

The owner of the land and the owner of the title deed must be the same person. Anything else is a clear recipe for chaos. A case in point is the Chembe, Kanani, Kibaba Muche area. If the government has now processed land titles for these areas then there is almost sure to be  trouble as what is on record is not what is on the ground.

What fuels the suspicion that the bulk of these titles are going to non-Coastals is the political angle to the whole matter. A title deed is a private matter. It actually is part of private property. Why would a whole head of state come to give local residents land titles? Whose benefit is it for in the long run? It must be for the president and therefore cannot be a sign of goodwill.

If it truly was an olive branch, the national government should have allowed county governments to participate in vetting the lists through the ward representatives. The titles would then have been sent to the county governor’s office awaiting the arrival of the president to issue them.

Handling this matter in a proper way would have indeed helped the president come closer to endearing himself to the people of the coast who voted against him almost to a man. One of the reasons that the people of the coast did not vote for the president was land. There was suspicion that like his father he would not give issues of land at the Coast a meaningful hearing. And now when he looks like he would like to prove his critics wrong his handlers are now getting the whole thing wrong.

All said and done, let the coast people be assured of their land. Let each and every person feel and know that there is a genuine mechanism to ensure that they have land they can settle on, and that no one can come to unsettle them from their ancestral lands because of a piece of paper. The national government would rather keep their titles but ensure that people have land they can call their own to settle on. Titles can come thereafter.

 

| 30 Aug 2013