Kenya govt warns Moi's cronies over land grabs

Associates of former Kenyan president Daniel arap Moi must hand back millions of hectares of land seized or “inappropriately” given to them, or see it repossessed, Lands and Settlement Minister Amos Kimunya warned on Tuesday.

“The government will repossess land that was grabbed by individuals or inappropriately allocated by the government of Moi,” Kimunya told a news conference in Nairobi while launching a report into Kenya’s land laws.

After 24 years in power, Moi retired in December last year, when his Kenya African National Union was routed in polls by the National Rainbow Coalition, an opposition alliance that campaigned hard on an anti-corruption platform.

“The state will accept, with no punishment, people who voluntarily return title deeds of land that they inappropriately acquired,” Lands Commissioner Judy Okungu said at the news conference.

Kimunya concurred, and threatened to “expose the corrupt dealings” of those who failed to comply. The minister also announced a ban on “transactions involving

public utility land and government land”.

“Public utility land and trust land running into millions of hectares were irregularly allocated to religious groups, senior government officials and party officials, who were close to the ruling elites” during the Moi era, according to Mwalimu Mati, the acting head of the Kenya branch of corruption watchdog Transparency International.

After independence from Britain in 1963, large tracts of arable land in Kenya, known as the White Highlands, were handed over to the state-owned Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC), a research body, but Moi’s government later handed them over to his cronies and other politically connected people, mostly free of charge.

Kimunya also insisted that the government will repossess “land appropriately allocated, but which has not been developed for two years”.

“The law is very clear: if one is allocated a piece of land, but has not developed it for 24 months, then the government also takes it back,” Kimunya said.

The report, compiled by a commission chaired by former attorney general Charles Njonjo, has recommended that a national land authority (NLA) be entrenched in the new constitution currently being fine-tuned. Commenting on land ownership by foreigners, Kimunya, quoting the country’s draft constitution, said: “After the new constitution is enacted, foreigners will not be allowed to (permanently) own land in Kenya, but will be allowed (to do so) only on a 99-year lease basis.”

Currently, well over 300 000 hectares of Kenyan land is owned by foreigners and foreign firms active in agriculture, especially in top export crops such as tea, flowers, tropical fruit and vegetables, according to Duncan Ochieng, a researcher at Kenya Land Alliance (KLA), a non-governmental organisation.

A cross-section of Kenyans have in the past complained of unbridled land grabbing, notably by top government officials, and called for massive land reforms to redefine the criteria of land ownership.

Three years ago, a British charity, ActionAid, publicly called for land reforms in Kenya to avoid the kind of land crisis experienced in Zimbabwe. Some leaders were at the time urging Kenyans to invade white-owned lands. ‒ Sapa-AFP

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