By Waweru Wairimu – Courtesy of the “Daily Nation”
While Isiolo has witnessed major developments since devolution came into place and become an engine of economic growth, land disputes continue to impede development in the expansive county.
The once small dusty Isiolo town that sits at the border with Meru County, and which previously had no single tarmacked street, has witnessed renewed activity thanks to improvement works under the World Bank’s Kenya Urban Support Programme, the Isiolo International Airport and the Lapsset project among others.
Isiolo town’s modern market which will accommodate 4,000 traders is on course to completion. The Sh345 million Isiolo stadium and the county headquarters will also give the town a major facelift.
The major developments, including the national government-funded abattoir whose construction started 13 years ago and which is expected to be opened in 2021, have attracted investors into the county which has seen appreciation of land prices.
But this has in turn attracted land grabbers.
NO LAND DOCUMENTS
Lack of ownership documents, especially at the areas within the outskirts of the populated Isiolo town, continues to hinder development of residential and commercial properties due to multiple legal battles which have left the plots idle.
The county’s leaders are divided over a recently amended legal notice that allows adjudication in townships and settlements but excludes Resort City, Lapsset Corridor, military and security installations and national reserves and holding grounds.
Isiolo Senator Fatuma Dullo, Woman Rep Rehema Jaldesa, Nominated Senator Abshiro Halake, Deputy Governor Issa Abdi, Isiolo North MP Hassan Odha and his Isiolo South counterpart Abdi Koropu want the legal notice revoked and the process done afresh to allow adequate public participation.
With the price of land appreciating by the day, unscrupulous individuals including business people and government officers have been eyeing plots including those along the Isiolo-Moyale highway and using dirty tricks to defraud residents of their land.
The grabbers, aware that residents have no title deeds, have been colluding with corrupt land officials in having documents processed for them and using authorities to intimidate and scare locals from their ancestral lands.
The residents, who expected to benefit from huge appreciation of value for their land, have been living at the mercy of the tycoons who continue to forcibly evict them despite ongoing cases in court.
Early 2019, Ms Zainab Ibrahim was forcibly evicted from her land in Mwangaza after her neighbour secretly sold her parcel without her consent. Her mother died after developing health complications immediately after they were ordered off the land.
Nyara residents were on Tuesday treated to a rude shock after they spotted a tycoon erecting beacons on their five-acre piece of land where they have built shops among other amenities despite an ongoing matter in a Meru court.
The group of about 70 youths claimed that the tycoon, alongside three others, was enjoying protection from a local administrator and that he was using police officers to intimidate them.
Mr Jeremiah Kinoti, the chairman of youths, said they will do everything possible to protect the land from grabbers, noting that they have lived in the area for more than 30 years.
“We want those claiming ownership of our land to respect the court and wait for its verdict. We will do everything to protect our property which we inherited from our parents,” said Mr Kinoti.
The youths demanded that the tycoon be arrested for contempt of court, arguing that the county had already done beaconing and there is no way title deeds would precede beaconing.
APPEAL TO LEADERS
“Our leaders should come out and help protect our land. We want the county to also fast track issuance of titles to genuine owners to deal with land grabbing,” said Mr Joseph Mutethia.
While appealing to President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene and order a fresh probe into land grabbing in the county, Ms Purity Nyambura said it would be total injustice to them if they are evicted from their land.
“We will not allow them erect any beacon. We will fight to protect our family land,” said Ms Nyambura.
The most affected areas are Mwangaza, Kiwanjani and Checheles where hundreds have been evicted and a number maimed.
Some of the residents have been forced to seek refuge at their friends’ homes as tycoons continue to fence off disputed lands while being guarded by police officers.
Governor Mohamed Kuti told the Nation that beaconing had already been done at the areas and that ongoing titling process will help address the disputes.
The county boss said they are hoping to cover 4000 plots within Isiolo town and announced that 294 title deeds for Bulapesa had been processed and will be issued in a month’s time.
“We have established community land committees which will play a key role in identifying land owners in the disputed areas,” said Dr Kuti.
Mr James Muriungi, who claims his land was grabbed by a bodyguard of a former senior county government official about 20 years ago, said his house was demolished and another constructed on top of his child’s grave.
“I have visited over 12 offices in Nairobi to no avail. My neighbours say I am the rightful owner of the land but officials insist that it belongs to the police officer,” Mr Murungi recently told the Nation.
Meanwhile, tension is high at Asheraf over disputed 23 acres of land being claimed by two communities. The tension could escalate into inter-community conflict.
Isiolo Somali Council of Elders Chairman Shariff Abdullahi said the dispute could spark enmity between the two communities if not addressed in time.
A group of residents were last week prevented from burying a person whom they claimed was their relative, forcing them to seek alternative burial site.
Isiolo residents have vowed to fight tooth and nail to protect their valuable property and threatened to stage multiple protests if the issue is not addressed soon.
“We are not opposed to the titling process but want the disputed areas exempted as their issuance will profit the land grabbers. Adjudication in the disputed areas should be done once the pending cases in courts are concluded,” said Christopher Rukunga from Kiwanjani.