A 70 acre piece of land has been the cause of unrest and chaos in Utange area after residents moved in and started fencing and cultivating a 30 acre section of the land that they are claiming. The squatters drawn from Utange 1 settlement have made many claims on the land before and have been tussling with the owners for ownership in a battle that goes back many years.
The land legally belongs to Swaleh Nguru, one of the biggest landowners in coast province who is now deceased. His estate is now administered by his sons.
The matter is an example of the challenges that bedevil land ownership in Coast that have resulted in negative ethnicity, created squatters out of indigenous people and the often mentioned historical land injustices. These matters have resulted in stagnation of development in some areas as the citizens do not own land. The land matter goes a long way back in history and is as old as Mombasa.
The British and Germans allocated the Sultan of Zanzibar a 10-mile strip of land along the entire coastline. The land is from the Ocean to the hinterland for a distance of 1 mile.
The strip has 1,128 parcels of land measuring 80,000 hectares, was the first point where local people got disenfranchised as those within the strip were rendered landless.
Arab landowners and later Europeans were able to legally acquire ownership of huge tracts of land due to locals ignorance of law and illiteracy. As a result, the land ownership question in Mombasa and other coastal areas is one of the most intricate in Kenya. Absentee landlords own about 77,000 acres of land in the coast, as much land as a county.
Some of these lands have never reverted to the communities and are now controlled by absentee landlords through a complex system where residents pay land rents to build and develop on these lands. This is the case in Mvita, Kisauni and other places where the residents continue to pay rent for the land they live on without knowing who exactly owns the land.
In March, the Mombasa County executive for Lands Francis Thoya stated that the county will search for absentee landlords and where they will not be found then the county will take an inventory of everyone situated on the land and divide it to the people.
More than 128,000 families in the coast are squatters in their ancestral land with Mombasa having the most at about 52,000 going by 2009 figures.
Land grabbing, political land allotments and other unfair land ownership practices post independence have worsened the situation. Already, the Waitiki land in Likoni is one of the land crisis that has reached a boiling point and needs quick government intervention.
The squatters at Utange allege that the 99 year leasehold on the land has lapsed and thus are making a claim for it. However, the owner has gone to court and is enforcing an order forbidding them from building, cutting trees or cultivating on the land.
The residents took to the streets and barricaded the road demanding for a right to own the land. During the demonstration, a teenager Ronald Baya was shot and injured in the leg by police who were trying to break the demonstration.
The matter remains a complex one and needs a quick resolution as was the case with the Langata Primary land. The squatters have been calling on Dr. Mohamed Swazuri and the National Lands Commission to get involved in order to solve the long standing issues of land in Utange.