Chiefs in Garissa County who fail to report illegal land demarcations in their areas of jurisdiction have been warned they risk indictment as accomplices in the unlawful process.
Garissa County Commissioner Meru Mwangi said that the administrators are ‘the eyes and ears’ of the government on the ground and added no illegal activity should take place without them knowing and reporting.
The county commissioner was reacting to complaints by leaders in Modigar on the outskirts of Garissa town that some greedy land speculators are carving out and fencing off huge tracts of land where the Lamu Port South Sudan Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor infrastructure project will traverse in anticipation of profiting from the expected compensation of land by government.
Last month lands CEC Abdi Farah Omar toured the area and warned that those involved in land grabbing will face the full wrath of the law.
The CEC also warned county government employees and those from national land office against involvement in the illegal registration of the huge chunks of land acquired in the area.
“These cartels are carving off the land for speculation purpose. They are targeting compensation from the LAPSSET infrastructure project,” Omar said.
“We have information of foreign companies getting land here, using locals as a conduit to acquire illegal land and we will not hesitate to take the necessary action to thwart their motives,” he added.
The CEC termed the illegal demarcation as “selfish and one driven by greed”.
Mwangi who toured the affected area today accompanied by his security team and the leaders wondered how such huge chunks of land had been fenced off without the knowledge of the chiefs and their assistants.
“I can see that some of our chiefs have become lax in discharging their duties. The chiefs should have used the security agencies to stop the illegal demarcation,” Mwangi said.
“In the spirit of multi-agency approach I expect the chiefs to use the relevant government agencies in stopping these illegal activities,” he added.
The county commissioner said that already three people have been arrested in connection with the demarcation of land in the area and are ‘assisting the police with their investigations’.
Mwangi said that the government is mandated by law to protect lives and property of its citizens and will not allow any illegal land demarcation in the area to take place.
“It does not matter your status in the society, the law will catch up with you. This country is governed by the constitution and everyone must abide by it,” he said.
“There are procedures of acquiring land in this country. Please follow the laid down procedures and acquire land correctly,” the county commissioner noted.
Mwangi wondered how some of the land grabbers acquired either land lease or title deeds ‘for land that they can cannot pinpoint on the ground’.
“We are also investigating these title deeds and land leases. We suspect some of them are fake. How do you acquire these documents without identifying the land you want,” he said.
Former Garissa Mayor Ismail Garat said that thousands of acres that have been fenced belong to the community and is still being held in trust by the county government together with the national government.
“As far as I know and having served as the mayor of Garissa at some point, all land in Garissa was held in trust by the municipal or county councils then. With the advent of devolved governments, the mandate went to the county governments,” Garat said.
“What we are seeing is a recipe for community conflicts. These speculators are taking advantage of our illiterate pastoralists to grab their grazing land. This is not right and as leaders we shall fight for the rights of our people,” he noted.
Suleiman Abduwaab, Balambala sub-county administrator said that land in Garissa ‘is such an emotive issue and lives have been lost in the past over land conflicts’.
“We don’t want to lose more lives to land disputes. I am not aware as the administrator of this area that land is being planned and surveyed,” Abduwaab said.
The administrator urged those who want to acquire land to follow the laid down procedures and avoid short-cuts.
By Jacob Songok