The messy land compensation road taken by Government projects

Land at its attendant value has been the curse of humanity in this country since the pre-independence days. Families have been shuttered and livelihoods destroyed in our quest to either acquire or defend land. Blood has been shed in pursuit of that piece of soil. But the recent resolve by the Government to invest in high value infrastructural projects has just taken the love for land, no, for the money that land promises, to unprecedented levels. The greed for the millions of shillings that the Government set aside for compensation turned bloody after unscrupulous speculators chose to spare little effort in apportioning themselves prime tracks of land along the routes the projects would take. Between June 15 and 17 2014, more than 60 people were killed in attacks in and near Mpeketoni, Kenya. Though there have not been conclusive investigations to establish the cause of the massacre, word around town is that players could have been motivated by the then upcoming Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor project which had set aside money to acquire land in the area for the development of the Lamu port. In fact, Wikipedia states in its appraisal of the massacre that “Correspondents from the area suggested that the attacks may have been motivated by ethnic or religious hatred, or revenge for land grabbing” It goes on to say that “Many locals accused the Kenyan Government of attempting to enrich some individuals by giving them land.” Speaking of the Lapsset, the project has been shadowed by shadowy demands and counter arguments over compensation. In May this year, a report was released showing that millions of shillings had been paid to what was described as ghost land claimants by Lapsset. The report, presented in the Lamu County Assembly indicted ward representatives in the area for colluding to defraud the Government in compensation claims. According to the report, relatives of some ten county executives were “mysteriously compensated for lands they never owned at the site at the expense of genuine claimants; who are said to have been ‘pushed out’ of the claimants list before the ‘ghost’ ones were fixed,” reads an account by Baraka FM, a local radio station More than Sh35 Million had been allocated to each and every one of the over ten ghost landowners, according to the report. Some of the ghost landlords were paid many times over. About the same time, in fact a day later, the same station reported that “ A fresh row (was) brewing between a section of land owners at the new Lamu port, the LAPSSET authority and the National Lands Commission (NLC), over the allocation of 70,000 acres of land to the authority. According to the Baraka report, “the land owners” who had all been compensated millions of shillings for the lands acquired for the port in 2015 by the national government; were now saying some 70,000 acres of land is more than what had been previously agreed upon. They threatened to head to court if the NLC did not either revoke the allocation or have them compensated for the second time for the lands. By the time of going to press, issues of land compensation in Lamu were yet to be resolved, slowing the progress of the multitrillion project. In other reports taxpayers are said to have lost over Sh500 million in questionable land compensation payouts in the construction of the Mombasa-Nairobi stretch of the Standard Gauge Railway. An audit report released in June by Kenya Railway Corporation (KRC), the parastatal overseeing the implementation of the project, raised concerns over irregular compensation and over-payment to NLC. According to the story in the Standard newspaper at the time, KRC noted inconsistencies in the NLC master list. For example the irregular compensation at Manyani, Mbololo and in evenness between physical land size and their corresponding recorded measurements – Kathekani. And in a related matter, an oil company has since obtained orders stopping construction of the railway over a compensation dispute. African Gas and Oil Company, which has laid claim to 41.2 hectares in Miritini, Mombasa County, moved to court after the Government failed to pay over Sh519 million. The Standard newspaper reported that Justice Ann Omollo restrained the Government and the railway contractors from “entering, constructing, excavating or demolishing” any structures in the company’s land. The corporation is reported to have used over Sh30 billion in land compensation in the first phase of the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) project. The Corporation’s Managing Director Atanus Maina says about 5,000 people have benefited from the compensation. Section 2A of the SGR project, scheduled to run from Nairobi to Naivasha, was launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta in Embulbul, Ngong on October 19. It is estimated to cost Sh150 billion, out of which Sh15 billion will go to compensation for land. Section 2B is from Naivasha to Kisumu, 262 km that will include a new port in Kisumu. But with the continued theatrics of land entrepreneurs, chances of these projects running on schedule are highly minimal.

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