EDITORIAL: We need a lasting solution to the squatter problem

A Bill that seeks to give those who have squatted on government or private land for 12 consecutive years title deeds for free only risks entrenching the endless disputes we have faced since Independence.

The sponsor of the Bill that is now before the Budget and Appropriations Committee wants the squatters to be given the land and the government compelled to compensate the private land owners.

Land is quite an emotive topic in the country where a huge premium has been placed on owning the same. The frequent disputes have seen scores lose their lives and others maimed.

We urge the National Assembly to approach the Bill with sobriety so as to ensure that its decision does not stoke the fires instead of solving the endemic squatter problem in the country.

The danger of allocating squatters private land on the premise that they have squatted there for many years is worrying.

This is because we have to protect the sanctity of title deeds. No one should invade private property and refuse to vacate only for a politicians looking for votes to pass a law granting them the land.

It is time the government tackled the perennial landless problem. In all urban areas informal settlements have sprouted with the squatters invading land that belongs to the government and individuals.

With the slow pace of expending justice in our courts of law, it can take a private land owner years to get a judicial order ordering eviction of the squatters and enforcing the same would most times be futile especially if a local politician with eyes on votes moves in.

Though the Constitution says every citizen has a right to accessible and adequate housing, we must make sure that the law is not broken in trying to settle the landless.

What would stop criminal gangs from invading private land and squatting there for years in the hope that they get the land for free?

These are the loopholes that the committee must address. It must make sure that land grabbers are not rewarded.

For example, more than 50 per cent of Nairobi’s population lives in slums. It is estimated that it would cost Sh25.6 billion to settle squatters in Nairobi if the State owns 75 per cent of the affected property while it will cost Sh76.7 billion if the State owns 25 per cent and 75 per cent is in private hands and Sh102.2 billion if the affected property is fully private.

Land cartels have made the lives of many Kenyans miserable by fleecing them of their hard earned money. They are notorious for invading large parcels of land belonging to the government and private individuals.

What Kenyans need is a lasting solution to the squatter problem that is devoid of politics.