By Shadrack Mbaka & Ken Ogembo (MuST)
The Kenyan Coast is rated as one of the very sensitive regions in Kenya as far as the issue of land is concerned. Mombasa is located, has the highest number of landless people in the country. It has 6 counties namely; Kilifi county, Lamu county, Malindi county, Mombasa county, Taita Taveta county and Tana River county.
Most lands in the coastal area were previously owned by the Persians Arab Sultans and British. It was only much later handed over to the Government of Kenya. Since then landlessness and the squatter problem has continued to dominate urbanization challenges in the coastal counties, due to rising populations, increased demand for land, and the non restriction of land ownership in the country. A presidential directive to regularize Coastal squatters on Government land was first issued in 1978. Since then, there have been concerted efforts to establish regional settlement schemes.
Kenya has been grappling with the land question which subsequent government regimes have been unable to or unwilling to resolve. Recently the Jubilee Government has tried to address the issue of squarttership in the coastal region through the issuance of 60,000 title deeds.President Uhuru Kenyatta said the title deeds which have remained in the government lands registry since 1964 have been given to the concerned squatters free of charge. Mr Kenyatta who was accompanied by his deputy president William Ruto and the cabinet secretary in charge of the lands docket Mrs Charity Ngilu officially issued the title deeds at Karisa Maitha grounds at the headquarters of Kilifi County. Among the 60,000 title deeds to be issued to the squatters in coast region, Kilifi County had the highest number of 19,000.
The president said the thorny issue facing coastal people and other parts of the country was that of landless among the people and said his government is committed to prepare and issue about 3 million title deeds to Kenyan across the country in five years’ time. However, land experts have reservations on this government strategy to address issues of landlessness. The land question has manifested itself in many ways including fragmentation, breakdown in land administration, disparities in land ownership and poverty.
The nature of colonial and neo colonial experience in coast can only be understood through the contradictory and multiple functions and conflicts that land generates. The prevailing situation in the 10 mile Coastal strip is that land occupied by the indigenous Kenyans are still held under communal customary tenure as most of the land have not been adjudicated to determine the individual land rights. Areas which have been adjudicated under the Land Titles Act have legal individual tenure except that most of the Landlords are absentee landlords.
Matopeni settlement is one such settlement that is grappling with the land eviction threats between communities and alleged absentee landlords. In January 2013, Muungano wa Wanavijiji reported on the community initiatives to protect their land from set up evictions from city tycoons through land advocacy initiatives and legal support. (http://muunganosupporttrust.wordpress.com/2013/01/22/who-owes-matopeni-settlement-an-explanation/).
The Matopeni community, in Mombasa County has yet again been served by an eviction notice from the land owner, demanding that the community vacate the land by end of January 2014. Only this time the land owner is facing a well knowledgeable community in possession of accurate data with regards to the said parcel of land. The purported eviction notice and documents also in possession of Muungano wa Wanavijiji contains glaring anomalies and shallow in facts with regards to details of the land which is home to over 300 households.
With Support from Kenya federation of slum dwellers, the community has approached Transparency International, Coast regional office to offer them legal aid as a mode of empowerment of the community to unearth the rot in the eviction spree by well known and powerful business personalities in the area. The matter is currently being pursued in the corridors of Justice.
Savings and meeting remain fundamental for the residents of Matopeni A even as the struggle for 1.5hectors piece of land that remain key target for the people with optimum appetite for land and slums being their target. The area being next to Kongowea and along new Malindi Mombasa highway makes it prime site for business thus prompting the idea that the people eying the land wanted to make a mall.
In a recent news article, the Nyali Member of Parliament, Hon. Hezron Awiti on whose constituency, Matopeni informal settlement falls has vowed to combat the “art of irregular evictions” of the urban poor from informal settlements. http://www.the-star.co.ke/news/article-138130/nyali-mp-vows-save-residents-eviction
Awiti said it is unfair that the residents, who have lived on the land for more than 30 years, are now facing eviction while the title deed for that land expired. “No one will be evicted from the land they have stayed on for more than 30 years,” he said. He said he will lodge a complaint with parliamentary committee on lands, where he is also a member to address the land issue in the coast region.
The MP has established the constituency land committee to investigate all the lands in Nyali to establish private land and public land. He said that his constituency has many absentee land lords, lands which have expired leases and some which is not adjudicated.
“Government should think on how to settle people and not evict them, therefore will ensure that all land is adjudicated and shared among the coastal residents,” he said.
Through the struggle, members have been able to save money not less than Ksh. 150,000 and on 26th September 2013 shared with us the list of proposed list of the beneficiaries in the land project. Following member’s series of meetings to discuss who were to benefit from the project if the government will hide to their request.
The members therefore generated a list of 112 members dully signed by the expected beneficiaries. The list has been presented to National Land Commission and the County Land and Planning Ministry as the county had requested prior.
Not Twitching, community investment in water and sanitation infrastructure
In ensuring that the community resources are convened as a central pillar for advocacy and precedent setting that symbolizes that with organized structures within informal settlements, communities can indeed improve the infrastructural status of their settlements. The Matopeni community has reached out to a number of organisations for social and technical support that will see the settlement thrive to development and not fall to ashes.
The community through its engagement has been able to attract well wishers who have so far enabled the community get access to water, by building a borehole that serves close to 2,000 people. The community is currently pursuing a working relationship with Umande Trust to address sanitation challenges engulfing the Matopeni community. The community is currently organized and is saving towards establishing a bio-tower sanitation facility in the settlement.
The community has also received a clean bill of health from the Mombasa County health official on the need to construct at least four sanitation facilities that will protect the community from the jaws of disease outbreak and diarrhea.
The community has also begun negotiations with the area Member of Parliament to see if the Constituency Development Fund can match up community savings, which will facilitate the construction of an ultra modern sanitation facility that will serve the nearby Kongowea market. The federation is pursuing the land matter, to ensure that the Matopeni A community is not evicted, but through dialogue development of the informal settlement is achieved.
(Sentiments expressed herein are not necessarily those of the author nor Muungano Support Trust)