Vikobani, a settlement on an 0.8ha of land in Mombasa’s Jomvu sub-county is home to 36 families. The families can breathe a sigh of relief after a successful 8 year legal battle that ended with the families acquiring ownership documents to the land they so close came to loosing.
The land question in Kenya is quite an emotive subject. Upto 70% of the country’s land mass is yet to be titled. The scramble for land has become vicious in the recent past and has been at the centre of cyclical violence experienced during elections. Forced evictions have become rampant, and in most cases effected by or with the blessing of the government. Asserting the right to land in the country, is a long and tedious process that often requires one to be financially rich, and able to circumvent the corrupt land management institutions. The odds are usually highly against the poor and especially in urban centres where land is prime. The Vikobani Community, found in Mombasa’s Jomvu sub-county, is a case study in resilience, commitment and fortitude.
The families, as with many others in the over 72 informal settlements in Mombasa do not possess ownership details to the land. In 2012, a notice to vacate or face forced evictions was issued with respect to plot number 3717 VI/MN. The notice was issued by government officers on behalf of a private investor who claimed ownership of the land. These notices were initially ignored by the community, but with time, the threat became real. An attempt to evict them was thwarted by the community at some point. It is at the height of this anxiety over the evictions that they approached the organization for assistance and support.
A survey was quickly done to establish the true number of persons to be affected by the pending evictions. The survey relieved the size of the plot to be 0.8000 hectares, and home to 36 families. The 36 families were mobilized and supported to file a suit under a certificate of urgency on the 24th of September 2012, at the High Court in Mombasa, being case no. 173 of 2012. The suit was premised on adverse possession, a legal doctrine that protects the right of a person who has lived on a land, that is not legally registered to them, uninterrupted for over 12 years. The law in Kenya, recognizes such a person, and can transfer ownership to the person.
The case lasted several years in court. During this period, the registered owner in conjunction with government harassed and intimidated the community with the hope of scaring them off the land. When these threats did not work, attempts were made to divide the community, by offering individuals money as compensation if they surrendered their interest in the case. This particular strategy was particularly challenging to the community that is financially vulnerable. One of the key community leaders accepted the compensation and disappeared with the case file, scattering the community hopes. The rest of the community members, with the support and encouragement of the organization stood firm, fundraising, meeting regularly and resisting any form of intimidation.
Six years later, on the 17th of April 2018, Justice Kimingoi, the presiding judge in the suit ruled in favour of the community, primarily (and quite strangely) because the registered owner and his lawyer failed to attend court, to defend the suit. A decree was subsequently issued ordering the land department in Mombasa to register the 36 families as owners of the land, bring to an end the tussle for ownership.
When the decree was submitted to the land department for registration in June 2018, the attempts at defeating justice were again manifested, as the land file mysteriously disappeared, delaying the process of registration of the land. However, after several follow ups and submission of letters to the department, demanding the expediting the registration, the land was eventually registered in the names of the 36 families. A search at the land database, conducted on February 26th 2020 showed the land is registered to Joyce Mwalemba, Ali Ramadhan and 34 others.
While the process is yet to be completed as the ownership document, the title deed to the land is yet to be processed and issued, the 36 families are a joyful lot, as their resilience, persistency and fortitude has eventually paid off. They can now continue to invest on their land as they await the finalization of the process. The county government has been engaged to provide essential services to the piece of land including ensuring there is a drainage system and water supply. Their success has given impetus to others within Vikobani and other informal settlement to pursue their right to land.