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Unresolved Land Issues Simmer Along Kenya's Coast


A new report says violence over land rights is on the increase in Kenya. Lobby groups accuse the country's elite of making land grabs and pushing locals off their ancestral territory.

For decades, Kenya has witnessed land-related violence that has killed thousands pf people and displaced hundreds of thousands more from their homes.

A new report entitled "Unfinished Business of Land Issues in the Coast Region" highlights the tensions.

The Swiss-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre prepared the report. The group's leader, Sebastian Albuja, says the report focuses on land issues that have not received much international attention.

"Displacement in Kenya has been focused predominately on the displacement caused by post-electoral violence in 2008. Now this report is highlighting that there is all forms of displacement that are taking place in the coast region that are linked to land grabbing, that are linked to natural disasters. Displacement in Kenya has many faces, is ongoing to date," said Albuja.

When Kenya gained independence in the 1960s, some groups of people were settled in coastal areas where indigenous people already lived. The new communities were provided with title deeds, a document the indigenous people did not possess.

Those policies created tensions that have lasted to the present day. Currently, tension is highest in the towns and villages around Lamu. In the last two months, a group of gunmen have attacked civilians and security forces, killing more than 60 people and burning down homes, prompting thousands of people to move to safer areas.

Land issues came to the fore again last week, when President Uhuru Kenyatta reversed a move by the previous ruling government that gave 500,000 hectares of public land to just 22 individuals.

Albuja calls on Kenyan authorities to do more and strengthen government institutions to be able to deal with land rights disputes.

"It would be important to complete the land process that has been started. This includes passing a law and all legal instruments related to the land reforms. In other words, it's important to go beyond paying lip service to the issue of land reform and go beyond issues of making promises on land reforms," he said.

For now, a legal and political battle looms between the powerful individuals who own large chunks of land and the government, as Land Cabinet secretary Charity Ngilu says her office will investigate land allocation and ownership in the coastal region over the past 50 years.

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