John Kahindi, 38, rushed to build a makeshift house on a piece of land at Nguu Tatu area in Kisauni, Mombasa County, after his friends urged him to do so in order to be compensated by the National Land Commission (NLC).
The Mwakirunge resident joined more than 3,000 other ‘squatters’ in putting up more than 200 structures on the 60-acre piece of land which Bandari Sacco also claimed ownership.
“I was told I would be handsomely compensated. So I just took a few building materials and built a makeshift house. I joined the others during demonstrations, for which we would be paid Sh500. But I have my own home,” he told the Sunday Nation in an interview.
But when the demonstrations became ugly, Mr Kahindi, a casual worker, decided to stay home.
“Armed police officers came and brought down our houses. My friends were arrested and later freed.
“I became scared, but they told me there were other lands we could go and claim ownership. I opted out,” he added.
This is the style used by some residents within the Coast region, dubbed “professional squatters” by security agents.
They prey on idle land, build makeshift houses and wait for compensation. They insist the land belongs to their ancestors.
According to police reports, the squatters are usually led by a “ground man” who colludes with officials from the Lands registry who help them identify idle chunks of land for occupation.
Investigations by the Sunday Nation have revealed that their main tool of operation is a court order restraining the land owner from evicting them.
Once the squatters invade a piece of land and erect temporary structures, the court order they have secured restrains the genuine owner from entering, ejecting, interfering, disturbing, harassing, intimidating, removing them or disposing of the land.
The order leaves the genuine owner with no recourse but to enjoin himself in the case.
Bandari Sacco has been fighting to reclaim its piece of land since 2015 when squatters at Nguu Tatu, Kisauni Constituency, filed a case claiming to own the 60 acres. For four years, officials from the largest sacco in the Coast region had fought a court battle with the squatters.
The Sacco, which has over 16,000 members, said it incurred a Sh700 million loss due to statutory payments on the land they bought for Sh385 million in 2011.
The sacco planned to put up a shopping mall, houses, social amenities and a police post on the land.
On December 19, 2018, the squatters suffered a blow after Mombasa Environment and Land Court Judge Anne Omollo granted the sacco an order to build a perimeter wall on the land.
The Sacco finally won the case on Thursday, with board member Johnson Kegohi saying they could finally develop the property.
“What is intriguing about these invaders is that the names that appear in the various court papers are virtually the same, meaning these are professional grabbers,” he said.
Our investigations revealed that an individual on police watch was leading squatters in claiming two plots — plot number MN/11/1872 in Kiembeni and number 322/I/MN in Utange.
In the Kiembeni case, the owner wants to secure his land in a case which will come up at the Environment and Land Court in Mombasa on July 31.
Mombasa police commander Johnston Ipara said the scheme involves some 20 individuals who have formed a group which specialises in laying claim to undeveloped land.
The suspected kingpin of the group is a Mr Kiage, who police say is a fraudster luring unsuspecting residents to buy pieces of the land.
“Those members are the ones who file cases in court and make life hard for the real owners of the land,” said Mr Ipara.
On Monday, police demolished structures on a piece of land that had been occupied by at least 30 families.
The Sunday Nation learnt that a Mr Yunus Haroon Hussein had obtained orders from the court to maintain the status quo of the land against the squatters, who were holding an order barring him from interfering with the land.
In another case in Kilifi, at least 3,000 residents of Kadzuhoni in Magarini were left homeless after an investor obtained court orders to evict them from the 339 acres. The said squatters had been given 45 days to voluntarily vacate the land.
In Kwale, more than 500 households and owners of businesses on a property in South Coast are facing eviction after a three-judge bench of the High Court ruled that they were trespassers on Leisure Lodge’s property.
In a landmark decision, a Mombasa court made a declaration that all people living on the 187 acres of land or purporting to own it be evicted and any structures constructed on them be demolished.
The Coast region's security committee last week raised alarm over the fake squatters.
The committee’s chairman John Elungata said there has been an increase in cases of land grabbing and individuals invading government and private lands.
“They invade and encroach private or government land then later claim it is their ancestral land. I warn against illegal occupation of land,” he said when he chaired the committee meeting at Uhuru na Kazi.
Mr Elungata, who is also coast regional coordinator, asked all departmental heads to acquire tittle deeds to secure government land.
He said that the land problems have been escalated by professional squatters.
The thirst for land is now even affecting learning institutions, Judiciary properties and recreational areas, he added.
In Mombasa, more than 100 public primary and secondary schools, police stations and hospitals are among government institutions that have been secured after Mombasa Cement Ltd, which is owned by a wealthy philanthropist, put up perimeter walls to prevent grabbers from taking the vast idle lands.