The government has announced plans to recover land owned by absentee landlords which numbers thousands of acres. The National Land Commission’s chairman Muhammad Swazuri said that owners of the subject property had failed to identify themselves or to prove ownership.

The NLC had, in 2015, ordered absentee landlords to register and prove ownership of the vast acres of land they owned in the Coast region but many of the land owners have so far failed to do so despite the order being extended twice.

According to Swazuri, the land with ghost owners will now be nationalised and reallocated to new owners. “They failed to come forward and the land will revert to the Government. That is the law,” said Swazuri.

Surprisingly, the absentee landlords have been renting out the land to squatters for farming, construction of temporary houses and burial of dead kin through their agents. Most of the land owners are known to be alive and live abroad in places like the Middle East and Europe.

A comprehensive audit in 2009 by the ministry of Lands revealed that 77,518 hectares of land at the coast, mostly in Kwale with a total of 75, 982 hectares or 10 per cent of the land, belonged to absentee landlords. In Kilifi 1235 hectares belonged to the absentee landlords, while in Malindi 234 hectares belonged to them. The report also revealed that Mombasa, with the lowest number of squatters in the region, had about 301 hectares of land belonging to absentee landlords.

The National Land Policy of 2009, established that at least 600,000 coastal residents live as squatters in their ancestral land. The Kenya Land Alliance Coast branch coordinator Nagib Shamsan said that  the squatters are not allowed to erect permanent structures on the land. He added that squatters pay Sh. 20,000 for the land and a monthly rate of Sh. 300 to agents of the landlords.

In January 2015, land rights groups lobbied against the NLC for its failure to clear the air over the issue of expired 899-year old leases in the region. Most leases were set to expire around 2012 by which time most activists feared some leases may have been renewed in secret.

The NLC announced in 2015 that the commission faced challenges in documenting absentee landlords because most of them lived abroad. Until yesterday, the commission did not have a full record of the absentee landlords according to chairman Swazuri. He said certain individuals claimed ancestry but could not prove ownership.

The constitution requires all unclaimed land to revert to the state.

Source; The Standard