Chance to holistically resolve land issues

Wednesday March 18 2020

Squatters at Chembe-Kibabamche settlement scheme in Watamu, Kilifi County, on October 11, 2018 demonstrate over ownership of the land. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


The upcoming law reforms and Building Bridges Initiative give the best opportunity yet to Kenyans, especially the coastal peoples, to have a say in the resolution of historical land injustices.

The genesis of the land question at the coast, a reason for disgruntlement over the years, can be traced to the arrival of the Arabs and the Slave Trade in the ninth century.

This engendered unjust occupation of coastal land, whereby the indigenous peoples retreated to the hinterland to escape the dreaded illicit trade.

The British colonialists and successive post-Independence regimes continued the injustice.

The Land Titles Ordinance Act of 1908 pegged registration of land on ‘proof’ of ownership. It gave residents six months to lay claim over land with the recorder of titles in Mombasa.

But most of the indigenous people were hiding in the Nyika Plateau; only the Arabs got title deeds.


The locals returned after the abolition of slavery only to find their land given away to foreigners. This anomaly was never corrected at Independence; hence the prevalence of absentee landlords.

Some post-Independence political elites accessed large tracts of arable land with the locals confined to the ecologically marginal dry, poorly accessible pest- and disease vector-prone hinterland, the “nyikaland”.

The latter became squatters either by returning to their then-Arab-registered lands or surrounded by large ranches.

The pre-colonial Land Titles Ordinance Act of 1908 (the Land Titles Act in independent Kenya) and Mazrui Trust Land Act Cap 289 of 1912 are to blame for the squatter problem at the Coast, aggravated by a clause in the first post-Independence Constitution that made all title deeds given in the region lawful and valid.


By a March 21, 1912 agreement, vide a certificate of title No. 409 of April 4, 1914, the British colonial government gave the Mazrui family 10,000 acres of land in Kilifi County, from Kuruwitu to Watamu and bordering the Wanyika reserve. That year, the Mazrui Trust Land Act was enacted.

In 1989, the government repealed the Mazrui Land Act for the settlement of squatters. But in 1991, the Mazrui heirs challenged the decision.

After a 23-year court battle, judgment was entered in favour of the Mazrui family. Now, over 10,000 families living on the land face eviction.

The progressive 2010 Constitution, indeed, addresses the matter in Article 67 by requiring the National Land Commission (NLC) to investigate and adjudicate claims of historical land injustices.

Section 15 of the National Land Commission Act requires the commission to put in place appropriate legislation to effectively discharge this mandate.


Despite going through public participation, however, the process was watered down after the draft legislation was included in the Land Laws (Amendment) Bill 2015.

To resolve all the historical land injustices, the NLC should be abolished and regional land boards established with each county government having its own.

These boards would have the powers and functions like those of the NLC, particularly to investigate title deeds and historical land injustices.

Finally, all land registered under the two unjust colonial laws should be declared public land and given back to the locals, the genuine owners.

Mr Kingi is the governor of Kilifi County and chair of Devolution at the Council of Governors.