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Land grabbers hampering Sabaki River Estuary conservation efforts

Three conservation groups and a squatter settlement committee at the Sabaki River Estuary in Magarini Sub County have accused influential tycoons of grabbing mangrove forest land and hampering conservation efforts.

They claimed that a brother to a former powerful Principal Secretary had grabbed more than 40 acres of mangrove forest land, threatening to bring to nought the investments they have put in conserving the estuary, which is a world-renowned wetland.

Speaking to journalists at the conservation area Friday, the residents also alleged that the tycoons were frustrating their efforts to acquire land at the adjacent Sabaki/Mambrui Squatter Settlement Regularization Scheme.

The land in question was reclaimed from the receding sea and landless residents have asked the government to settle them, but according to them, the tycoons have been sending surveyors to subdivide the land after bribing local jobless youths to take them around.

Joseph Mwandenge Mangi, an official of the Sabaki River Conservation and Development Organization (SARICODO), said the groups have been carrying out conservation activities in this area for more than 25 years knowing the area has no issues until last year when they saw an investor encroaching into the mangrove forest and after enquiries, they were told that the said investor-owned land inside the conservation area.

“When we prodded further, the tycoon said he had a title deed for 60 acres, 42 acres of which were inside the mangrove forest, and this has discouraged us from continuing with conservation activities since apparently, we have been doing so on private land,” he said.

Mr. Mangi said as residents grappled with the grabbing of the conservation area, they were taken aback when they started seeing ‘strange people’ carrying out survey work without the knowledge of the squatter settlement regularization committee last year

“We, the locals, have requested the government to give us this open land so we can also carry out development activities and have made significant progress but powerful individuals are blocking us from getting this right,” he said.

The chairman of the Sabaki/Mambrui Squatter Settlement Regularization Scheme, Mr. Marko Lugwe said his committee that gone to as far as the office of the Director of Lands Adjudication where they were told some powerful people had engaged lawyers to help acquire the reclaimed land.

“The tycoons are monied and when they reach here, they use divide-and-rule tactics by using the youth to help them as they carry out illegal survey works. We started this programme in 1991but to date, we have not been able to get the land,” he said.

“We are appealing to the government to give us this land and those wishing to get any land here to pass through the committee instead of using hapless youths to fraudulently steal land from us.

His sentiments were echoed by Mr. Kennedy Kalama, the scheme committee secretary who vowed that the residents would stay put and ensure that they get the land which had already been surveyed and presented to the Directorate of Land Adjudication.

“We are very alert and shall stand our ground to protect our rights from being taken away by rich private developers,” he said.

On her part, Dama Charo a member of the committee said the land in question had already been surveyed and a part development plan (PDP) prepared and wondered why other surveyors were secretly carrying out survey work.

By Emmanuel Masha and Sironik Waithera 

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