Picture a scenario involving a surging population, large tracts of undeveloped land, corruptible land administration authorities, populist politics and escalating land prices.
Clearly, the perfect mix for a powder keg ready to explode, just waiting for a trigger.
This is Nairobi’s Eastlands, especially the wider Embakasi area where protracted conflicts over land have remained persistent despite numerous efforts to resolve them.
The latest effort was by President Uhuru Kenyatta who instructed the Lands ministry to work with relevant authorities to conclude the titling process for long-suffering members of the various land-buying companies. Members remain helpless in the face of infighting by the groups’ officials and relentless interference by external parties seeking to dispossess them of their land.
It is not surprising that majority members of land-buying companies, co-operatives and groups are yet to receive title documents, the President’s order notwithstanding.
The Embakasi, Savanna, Donholm areas have for close to two decades been plagued by land-grabbing cartels whose modus operadi entailed gathering local villagers to invade any undeveloped space without reference to who the genuine owners may be and pose.
They posed as needy squatters, who were coached how to form a “self-help group” and demand that they be allocated the land by the erstwhile Nairobi City Council.
It is against this background that numerous so-called self-help groups in the larger Embakasi area hold some form of “certificates of allocation” of land purportedly issued by the National Land Commission.
The cartels have operated by identifying key undeveloped land and presenting themselves as ‘squatters’ that need settlement by the Commission, thereby disinheriting the genuine owners of the plots. This practice has previously been more pronounced at the Coast region, where landowners regularly suffer attacks and loss of their land in broad daylight.
Crooks eyeing other people’s land regularly mobilise idlers commonly referred to as ‘professional squatters’ to invade and encroach on private property, which they claim is their ancestral land that has been grabbed by outsiders. Land has been an emotive issue in Kenya but such corrupt practices have greatly eroded the gains made in the land reforms.
The National Land Commission (NLC) did help by publishing gazette notices and other guidelines denouncing the ‘ownership’ documents that these self-help groups have been circulating to various authorities and in court cases as fakes and forgeries.
In April last year, the commission dismissed letters that two self-help groups were using to claim land in Donholm as forgeries. The ownership battle over the 42 parcels, registration numbers Nairobi/Block82/7812 – 7855, worth at least Sh500 million, had previously ended in violent conflict, prompting the intervention of police.
NLC told police investigating a case of violence and malicious damage to property that the ownership documents presented by the self-help groups could not be verified.
“Please note that the purported determination is a forgery and cannot be attested to by the commission. I hereby attach the copy for your further action,” wrote NLC Deputy Director of Investigations and Forensic Services Antipas Nyanjwa.
The recent escalation in land prices in Nairobi has only added fuel to the activities of these cartels, who are faceless individuals who spare no expense to penetrate, influence and manipulate key institutions involved in land management to help them disinherit the genuine owners of the land.
Just last week, a former senior chief of Kayole and chairman of a group going by the name Sowesava Self-help Group, Hoops Shihemi Alexander, was charged in court for fraudulently preparing title documents in attempt to illegally acquire property valued at Sh944 million situated in Donholm belonging to Gidjoy Investments.
Other officials of the group – Patrobas Awino, Peter Muiruri and Peter Kanika – had already been arraigned on similar offences and remanded at Industrial Area Remand Prison.
Property owners in Nairobi’s Eastlands have for many years had to contend with unending waves of invasions by squatters, usually mobilised by well-heeled wheeler-dealers.
This was illustrated by a protracted 10-year ownership tussle pitting a group that is linked to developers of the Greenspan Estate against a self-help group called Alfajiri Self Help Group over a Sh1 billion piece of land in Donholm.
Justice Kossy Bor of the Environment and Land Court ruled that the Sauti Sacco Society Limited was the owner of the parcel of land 82/4264, a block from which a portion was hived off and sold to Greenspan Developers Limited.
The court further ruled that the suit property was private land and ceased to exist when it was subdivided into two blocks, noting that Alfajiri Self Help Group could not lay claim to private property it never owned.
“The suit property was not public land and the City Council of Nairobi could not have allocated it to the plaintiff (Alfajiri) since it was private land,” said the judge.
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