The government has initiated the process of revoking a title deed irregularly issued to a private investor for a 2,000-acres parcel of land set aside for conservation activities at Lake Challa in Taveta sub-county.
The community living around the cross-border lake had set aside the land for conservation in 2013 where eco-friendly activities like tree-planting, bee-keeping, canoeing and fishing were done.
Taveta Deputy County Commissioner (DCC) Joseph Mericho said the government had rapidly moved in to recall the title deed issued to ensure the land was reserved for the activities it was set aside for.
He explained land was to be registered as Challa Conservancy but ended up being registered as a limited company. Through the dodgy registration process, the land parcel had been converted from a public property for the community into a privately owned asset.
“The government has recalled the title deed for revocation. The anomaly in registration was noted quickly. It will be corrected and restored to what it was originally meant for,” he said.
Reports say the title deed was originally set under the Lake Challa Conservancy area. Instead, the title came out registered under Lake Challa Conservation Limited implying the community land was owned by a company with directors and members.
This brazen land-grabbing attempt shocked the residents who called for a probe on the faceless entities behind this shady move when private surveyors descended on the land and started mapping points to erect beacons in mid-2018. Elders and leaders from the region raised alarm and called for government intervention.
Former governor John Mruttu said thousands of local residents were at risk of being denied access to the scenic lake that borders Tanzania. He added that the investor would have denied the community their right to access land they had owned for centuries.
“This is community land that should never be privatized. This attempt to grab needs to be checked and stopped at once,” he said.
Lake Challa, a magnificent marine resource, straddles the Kenya-Tanzania border. Artisanal fishermen from both countries earn a living from fishing in this fresh-water crater lake. Its economic value and beauty aside, the lake has deep religious significance for the Taveta Community. Njama, the council of elders for Taveta community, regard it as a hallowed traditional shrine where special rites and sacrifices were done to pacify wrathful ancestral spirits.
Mr. Nahashon Mkunde, the chair of the council, says the lake occupies a special place in the folklore of the Taveta community. He adds that any attempt to privatize it was wrong because it desecrated a place considered holy.
“This has been a special place with religious and cultural significance for our community. It cannot be a personal property,” he said.
Already, the Ministry of Environment and Kenya Forest Service (KFS) have moved in to secure the land. Reports say Lake Challa and adjacent conservation area will be gazetted as public conservation land to permanently insulate the land from future grabbing attempts.
County Eco-Conservator Charles Kuria said the land would strictly be used for conservation purposes to ensure the delicate integrity of the lake ecosystem was retained.
He disclosed that KFS was closely working with the local community and Beach Management Unit (BMU) to promote eco-friendly activities in the area and promote local livelihoods.
The conservator further said the process of gazettement would pave the way for establishment of a Forest Conservation Station to promote preservation of Lake Challa.
“The lake climate and adjacent environment are unique features that need protection. This is enabled through working closely with community and BMUs to support conservation efforts,” he said.
The move to revoke the title deed has been met with jubilation and wary optimism by a section of the community who hope the government will increase vigilance over public land.
Mr. Johnson Muli, a farmer in Njukini in Challa, says the government should set aside a special unit to map the status of all public lands in the country.
“We are happy over this move. The government should have a unit to create a database for public land making it impossible for fraudulent investors to steal it,” he said.