By David Wanjala
Principal Secretary, State Department of Forestry, Mr. Gitonga Mugambi was recently quoted in one of the local dailies hailing the Government’s move to recover forest land worth Sh100 million in Ngong, Kajiado County.
The said land is a 3.5acre piece that had been carved out of Kibiku Forest, next to the Kenya Institute of Highways and Building Technology by a developer for private use. Already, the grabber was in the process of developing the land when the Government, according to the PS, moved to reclaim it.
One may think, from the PS’s statement, that Government, on its own motion, discovered the hiving off of the piece of land in the forest, investigated, found that the land had been grabbed and took action.
The truth of the matter, however, is that it is members of the public who live in the neighbourhood that took action which has resulted in the saving of the forest. Through their association, Kibiku Community Forest Association, they moved to court in early October to stop the developer from grabbing the land in the forest. According to the association’s court documents, the developer was issued a title deed for the land, L.R.261382, on July of this year.
As such, the community is also suing officials from the Lands Registrar, the ministries of lands and Environment and Forestry, Kajiado County Government, Kenya Forest Service, National Environment Management Authority and the Attorney General.
Admitting the culpability of government officials in the grabbing of the forest land, the PS said the grabber was well-connected to corrupt land and forestry officials, especially surveyors.
“The Land is a gazette forest, the grabber has drawn a boundary that has been there for over 20 years, felled trees and started construction,” he said in his address to the media, adding that the recovery was made possible by a tip-off from members of the public.
And therein lies the problem. With all the Government’s mighty security apparatus and intelligence gathering abilities, it took a tip-off from members of the public, even with the fencing off of the land, felling of trees, landscaping, construction of a marram road, for government to know that 3.5 acres of its forest land hand been hived off and was being put to private use?
Who issued the private developer with a title deed? Who approved the physical development that was to ensue on the piece of land? Who was going to supply electricity and water to the private development?
If you were to look at the recent painful demolitions of homes and other developments on the East Africa Portland Cement Company (EAPCC) in Mavoko Municipality of Machakos County, you will find the same issues. Government, through relevant ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), issued title deeds to the individuals who invested in the land. Meaning, it facilitated the buying processes including transfer of titles and possession. It approved the physical planning and developments on the land. It then supplied the developed land with critical amenities including power, water and sewer management, and roads.
Government did all this in knowledge that the land belonged to it. It then waited for over 10 years, after titles had changed hands severally and new right holders had invested on the land, some with their life savings and moved in with bulldozers to bring down those developments. Most of those homes that were brought down in Mavoko were retirement homes.
At a certain age in life, you cannot start again. When you bring down a home of a retiree, or someone beckoning at retirement in their mid-50s, you literally killed them by suffocating their dreams. It is annihilating when the same is orchestrated by a people’s own government. One may not be left with much to live for. It is reported that some victims fainted and died at the sight of the demolitions. Suicide by more victims, post demolitions, may also happen. How do you deal with suddenly becoming homeless past your prime, when you cannot begin afresh?
Kenyans love land. Kenyans work their entire lives to just own a piece of land. They live miserably to just save for a piece of land. They borrow heavily, at exorbitant interest rates so they may own a piece of land, a place they can call home.
Kenyans also strive to buy genuine land. You cannot knowingly invest your lifetime savings in a fake title deed. Neither can you borrow from a bank, or take a mortgage at prevailing high rates only to blow it up by investing in something you know is fake. They do due diligence, which, unfortunately, lead them to believing that all is fine.
The tragedy of a majority of Kenyans is that they fall prey to organized cartels in the land buying and selling business, patronized by politicians, and facilitated by government officials in various MDAs including Lands Registry and Survey, and the police, out to swindle them of their hard earned wealth.
Government should restore the sanctity of the title, if it is to stop the cancer of land grabbing that is threatening to destroy the country. This, government can achieve by making the punishment for its officials who falsify government documents, severe. Punish with life sentence government officials in Lands Registry found guilty of falsifying documents that result in title deeds that end up in the hands of innocent Kenyans.
Make the government official, not a deed holder, the principal offender where a member of public ends up with a falsified title deed. Clean up the Land Registry and ensure that the process of issuing title deeds to property is cleaned up and watertight so that once a title deed has been issued by government to an individual or an entity, it is irrevocable other than by an elaborate process guided by a well-thought out government policy. For any fraudulent issuance of a title deed that would result in the grabbing of land, going forward, the government should pursue its own officials and not the victim of the government officials’ corruption.
Secondly, government should rope in all its other departments and agencies to make it difficult for development to ensue on a disputed land. Kenya Power and Lighting, for instance, should not supply power to a sight where the rightful title deed holder is yet to be determined. State Department of Housing and Urban Development should not provide physical planning services on, according to government records, disputed cites. So should other suppliers of public amenities, including water and sewerage.
Lastly, our justice system should expedite land related disputes. How do you justify a land ownership dispute lasting 20 years in our courts of law? While at it, enforcement of judicial orders must also be enhanced so as to stop people from developing and settling on disputed properties on which the courts have issued prohibitive orders.
Governments exist to serve the people. It is appalling that the Government of Kenya should provide inadequate services to its people and have the audacity to punish them severely for the mess ensuing from that inadequacy.