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

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I Will Revoke Fake Titles Without Fear Or Favour: Swazuri

| Caroline Mango

National Land Commission chair, Professor Mohammed Swazuri, says nothing stands in the way of his commission implementing the explosive Ndung’u Report on land without “fear or favour” against some of the most prominent and powerful personalities in the country.

The chairman insists that there will not be ‘piecemeal or selective’ solutions as it seeks to exercise its mandate under the new constitution. He asserts that all public officials or persons and professionals, whether serving in the current government or past regimes, who facilitated or participated in the illegal allocation of public land, will be investigated and prosecuted in accordance with land laws.

Alive to the ‘heat’ that is the Ndung’u Report because of the influential names it lists as being involved in illegal acquisition of public land, Prof. Swazuri says the National Land Commission (NLC)’s ammunition will be the law.

The 2004 report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Illegal Allocations of Public Land chaired by lawyer Paul Ndung’u, and popularly known as the “Ndung’u Report”, mentions a raft of former ministers, MPs, judges, civil servants and military officers as having acquired land illegally. It also alleges that the family of President Uhuru Kenyatta and former presidents Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki illegally acquired chunks of prime land and public utilities along the Coastal strip.

The report recommends that the large majority of such awards be revoked, a recommendation that is now well covered in the mandate of the Swazuri commission, as envisaged in the new constitution.

Mohammed Swazuri

Mohamed Swazuri

When asked by Coast This Week whether the NLC would be bold enough to investigate President Uhuru and/or his family based on sections of the Ndung’u report which suggest that the President’s family owns over half the Coast region, Prof. Swazuri said:  “We are dealing with the law here. Everything is in black and white. This is no big deal. Former President (Moi) has surrendered land voluntarily in Kwale and the serving Vice President (Ruto) has lost land to a citizen of this country through a court of law. The law does not look at who Uhuru is or who Kibaki is, and that should demonstrate that this is not a witch hunting mission.”

The Ndung’u Report’s recommends a process of revocation and rectification of titles in the country, computerization of land records which should be made available to the public for inspection and the establishment of a Land Commission and revocation of the powers of the President and Commissioner of Lands to allocate land as some of the far reaching steps that have now been envisaged in the laws that govern land issues in the country.

Other powerful provisions within the new laws that govern the independent government commission, is for instance, the Land Act 2012 which empowers the state to ‘acquire any title or other interests in land for a public purpose subject to prompt payment of compensation’. The Act also stipulates that private land can be converted into public land through compulsory acquisition, reversion of leasehold interest to government after expiry, transfers or surrender.

Land owners at the Coast who include prominent Arab and Asian families including Swaleh Nguru, the Mazrui dynasty and Abdallah Baghoza are hopeful that the commission will be fair to all those involved and take proper action on those who continue to enjoy ‘ill gotten wealth from fake title deeds.

“The Commission must scrutinize afresh, all title deeds and clean the system that has given these people (grabbers) an easy time, always running along the corridors of justice, every time they are about to be unmasked,” says Munir Mazrui. “Authentication of title deeds will be a very important exercise which will also protect those who acquired land through the right legal processes like myself.”

Prominent Mombasa lawyer and political activist Abubakar Yusuf says the commission has the constitutional and legal framework to discharge its mandate. Yusuf however says the challenge lies on the individual ability by the commission to be bold enough to face the ‘land grabbers’ and take action without fear.

“Land grabbers, whether in this or past regimes, will not sit and fold their arms to wait for Swazuri’s commission or return land they grabbed from poor people,” he says. “The problem if you ask me has never been the law. The problems lie in the implementation of reports that are in public domain and which continue to gather dust in government shelves simply because the forces behind land grabbing have been able to maintain status quo.”

Prof. Swazuri says the commission appreciates the fact that its mandate will face major challenges like transfer of ownership of land but adds that they are empowered to seek correct information, a provision that will allow them trace back documents and refer to various sources.

But critics feel that the national government is clearly by design, interfering and undermining the commission’s purpose which was to work hand in hand with county governments. In response, Prof. Swazuri says that even though the commission is faced with the major issue of under-funding, there is no interference by the national government; notwithstanding the move by the Ministry of Lands to issue over 60,000 title deeds, and more recently, the summoning of all county registrars and their deputies in Nairobi to ‘take stock and facilitate transition’ of land titles.

“The commission was formed under the former President and so far, we feel that the Jubilee government is committed in solving the land issues not only at the Coast but the country as a whole. So far, we are clear and ready to undertake our mandate without fear or favor,” says Prof. Swazuri.