MWATHANE: Historical land grievances at the Coast and elsewhere must be carefully settled - Daily Nation

Historical land grievances at the Coast and elsewhere must be carefully settled

Monday August 11 2014

Mr Waitiki Kamau, the owner of a 930-acre farm that is the subject of a dispute.  FILE PHOTO |

Mr Waitiki Kamau, the owner of a 930-acre farm that is the subject of a dispute. FILE PHOTO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

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The High Court recently directed Internal Affairs Cabinet Secretary Joseph ole Lenku to compel Inspector-General of Police David Kimaiyo to evict those who have illegally settled on Waitiki farm in Likoni, Mombasa.

This is a test case; there are many similar cases along the Coast where people occupy registered private land without permission for years. It tests Kenya’s constitutional commitment to the protection of rights to property. The Coast is home to all manner of land problems.

Some of the indigenous communities lost their ancestral land rights following the application of formal land law, particularly the Land Titles Act and the Government Lands Act, both now repealed, in the last century.

Some people were evicted, or pronounced squatters by newcomers who arrived holding titles to land the indigenes had occupied.


In places where government settlement schemes were established, we continue to hear complaints that local people were not equitably considered. But some indigenous landless people quickly sold their plots after settlement in such schemes then went on to declare themselves landless.

There are also cases of people who used their privileged public offices to acquire government land which initially belonged to indigenous Coast people. This has left local people with unhealed grievances.

And then there is the category of sincere investors who bought property from local people or outsiders in possession of land along the Coast and have subsequently made heavy investments. This category feels rather “trapped”, after having made genuine investments only to later be viewed with suspicion and hostility by local people.

This cocktail of land problems makes the belt rather unique. But the matter is complicated by the reality that the belt is home to our tourism industry and also presents a major security challenge since it marks our international boundary on the Indian Ocean.


Attempts to resolve the Coast land problems must, therefore, be informed by logic, sobriety, historical facts, business realities and the pertinent implications to the local and national economy and security. Indeed, an emotional response to the problem could easily escalate ethnic passions.

The application of formal land laws which proclaimed parts of the country to be crown land available for allocation to preferred persons by the colonial government, also disenfranchised many other local communities.

That’s why the Maa community brought up the matter of expiry of 99-year lease agreements during the Narc administration. They claim original ownership to large parts of the Rift Valley. The issue stirred up national and international concern following demonstrations in Nairobi and Laikipia in support of the claims.

Luckily, there has been a cooling down of passions but signs of communal dissatisfaction remain. The Rift Valley experienced massive movement of people from different ethnic backgrounds after the exit of of colonial settlers.

Some of the migrant citizens to the zone bought land through the market while others settled in government settlement schemes.


As at the Coast, some politicians and government officers also used their offices to acquire land in Rift Valley. Here, too, there are indigenous communities who stake original claim to the land alienated to the colonial settlers and subsequently to local politicians, government officials and migrants.

The pattern replicates itself in parts of Central and Eastern regions where people were moved out of their ancestral land into reserves and their land allocated to colonialists.

Machakos, Kiambu, Murang’a, Nyeri, Nyandarua, Laikipia, Isiolo and Meru counties, just to name some, have living examples of this history. Today, most cosmopolitan urban centres stand on some community’s ancestral land.

This chequered history, therefore, calls for reflection and sobriety. We must be careful what land issues to revisit and how.

I remember cautioning an Ongata Rongai resident keen on simplistic solutions to the Coast land issue to remember he lives in Kajiado County and, if his model were to be rolled out, he too, could be evicted. He sobered up.

We must, therefore, subscribe to carefully thought-out solutions to the land question, based on constitutional and legal foundations. In doing so, care must be taken not to undermine the foundation of the State and economy.

Mr Mwathane is a consultant on surveying and land information management ([email protected])