CORRUPT businessmen and politicians have been fanning insecurity in Kenya. They use violence as a red herring to divert attention from corruption to insecurity in a bid to cover their trucks or to blackmail the government into stopping criminal investigations. A case in point is the violence in Lamu County in June and July this year.
Corrupt characters had grabbed huge tracts of land- to be precise- some 500,000 acres of public land. The land covers much of the area set aside for the proposed US$23 billion Lamu Port-South Sudan - Ethiopia transport corridor, LAPSSET. The land is public land occupied by squatters. The grabbers therefore hired goons- who pretended to be Al-shabaab militants- to violently evict them.
This opened a Pandora’s Box. Investigations into the cause of the violence unearthed the scandal. The land grab was executed by 22 entities that grabbed 500,000 acres in 2011/2012. It is note worth that that was the period immediately preceding the general election in Kenya in 2013. Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta pulled fast and bold one on the avaricious: He shocked the nation by announcing that just a group of 22 entities, had grabbed some 500, 000 acres of public land in Lamu County. The president ordered the repossession of the land and also investigation with a view to prosecuting the culprits.
The presidential announcement solved a paradox: Lamu is a sparsely populated County, where population density is just sixteen per square Kilometre: Why does the region suffer landlessness and violence related to land ownership? Now 500,000acres of land measures some 2000 square kilometres. This is enough land to accommodate some 32,000 people. This means that the 22 well-healed land grabbers displaced some 32,000 people.
The land is a prime piece of real estate considering that it borders the site of the proposed US$25 billion Lamu Port south Sudan Ethiopia transport (LAPSSET) corridor. This corridor’s developments include the Lamu Mega Port on 9000 hectares of land, a 2000km high speed Railway line, a Crude Oil pipeline, a120, 000bpd Crude oil refinery, a highway a resort city and an economic zone.
The Port will also be at the head of the equatorial bridge, a Railway line connecting Lamu Port on the Indian Ocean to Douala port in Cameroun on the Atlantic Coast. This makes the land a real gold hence a prime target for grabbing. LAPSSET will turn the backwater Lamu County into a bustling energy and logistics hub in east Africa thus increasing demand for land and consequently pushing up its price.
Construction of the first three berths begins in the 32-berth port was proposed to begin this month hence the urgency to evict the squatters. At least 100 people were slaughtered in an orgy of violence lasting about three weekends.
The predators according to intelligence reports were business men and politicians from both the coast and up country. A majority appears to be members or supporters of the opposition party, ODM, which is an affiliate of the CORD coalition, the official opposition party in Kenya. One of the kingpins of the opposition, Siaya senator James Orengo was the Minister in charge of Lands in 2011/2012 when the land was dished out. Orengo is a Member of the Opposition CORD coalition led by Raila Odinga who was the Prime Minster in the last coalition government. He and Orengo are also at the fore front of change the Constitution Movement. Ironically, among the issues they want voted for is Corruption and insecurity. He has already recorded a statement with the Police over the land grab.
The corrupt are adept creating smokescreens and red herring s to cover up its shenanigans. For instance, when the violence broke out in Mpeketoni in Mid- June, the government blamed local political networks. The opposition led by Raila Odinga, stopped short of calling the President an idiot insisting that the violence is perpetuated by the Somali militant group-Al- Shabaab. Interestingly, the Somalia based Al-shabaab militants “claimed responsibility for the carnage.” However, a person suspected to be an ODM supporter, was later arrested for using a fake Al-shabaab twitter account to issue the said admission.
The admission by Al-shabaab was puzzling; the Militants are under siege, nay on the run, in Somalia. Few thought they have the stomach to attack targets across the borders. The land scandal has blown the cover on the avaricious in Kenya.
A part from displacing people from their land and therefore their daily economic activities, the violence has devastated the tourism sector.
The coastal economy is largely depended on tourism. The sector, which was just emerging from bad business caused by uncertainties associated with last year’s elections, is now back in the doldrums. Travel advisories by western source markets have emptied the white sandy beaches of tourists.
The industry employs some 500,000 people directly and millions others indirectly. These jobs are at stake. Hotels have already declared a significant proportion of these employees redundant. The national economic growth rate which is forecast at 5.5 to per cent this year is also threatened. The crisis in the tourism sector could shave off up to one per cent off the forecast growth. Last year, the decline in tourist numbers shaved off 0.7 per cent of economic growth.
It is perhaps this realisation that informed the bold move by the government to cancel the title deeds and repossess the land. In addition, to stop the bloodletting and hemorrhage of the economy, the government sent the military to hunt down the criminals with a devastating effect.
Intelligence reports indicate that a large number of the criminals were killed in security forces’ raids on their hideout in the expansive Boni forest. If government sustains its aggressive stance on crime, insecurity will decline. In fact, in august, insecurity was down significantly.