By Davis Mwandawiro
When it was announced that the long awaited Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project would commence last year, there was a huge relief that it would open up the region and ease up the congestion that is usually along the busy Mombasa-Nairobi road. However, controversy is flaring up once more over the construction of the multi-billion shilling Standard Gauge Railway.
The project has hit a snag in Mombasa where residents have refused to be compensated for the lands in order to pave way for the contractors to continue building the railway. Communities along the 15KM stretch from Banda to Port-Reitz claim that the region is ancestral land and will not part away with it.
The Sh 324 billion contract to build the Mombasa-Nairobi railway went to two Chinese state-owned enterprises. China’s Third Railway and Design Institute Group Corporation (TSDI) will supervise the construction work by the China Roads and Bridges Corporation (CRBC). Some of the land evaluators complained that the high levels of illiteracy in this region made it even more hard to communicate effectively.
One particular local argued that he can never move out of his land because all of his family has been buried there. Efforts by government officials to try and talk sense have bore no fruit. In a twisted chain of events, it is alleged that local leaders in the region have had a hand to play in the resistance. It is speculated that they conspired with the public urging them not to accept any compensation.
It is alleged that most of the locals who are against the land relocation plan don’t even have title deeds. The land they currently live on is owned by an anonymous Indian tycoon who has tabled a case in court for the removal of the squatters.
Already, there has been a war of words between the National Government and the County Government over the compensation of landowners. Mombasa County Commissioner, Nelson Marwa has accused the Members of County Assemblies (MCAs) in the area of playing politics with the matter and warned those inciting locals will be arrested and charged. However, MCAs alleged that landowners in areas affected have been paid ‘peanuts’ for their land and want the National Land Commission to repeat the exercise.
Its highly unlikely that this standoff will continue. The Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) is an inevitable government project that must be completed. For now, its just about a matter of time until all these issues will be resolved and its completion.
National Land Commission (NLC) Chairman Dr. Mohammed Swazuri has called on local politicians not to interfere with the SGR land compensation as the projects will benefit all Kenyans include Mombasa residents. The NLC hopes that a meeting between the contractors, Kenya National Highway Authority (Kenha) and other stakeholders to sort out the impasse.