The Nation (Nairobi)

25 September 2006

Kenya: How Billions Are Lost in Grabbing of Forest Land

Nairobi — Ten individuals and organisations control Sh2.87 billion worth of Karura Forest, a report shows.

And were the Government to implement recommendations of the Ndung'u Commission - to recover monies obtained through illegal allocation of public land - a substantial amount of that would complete public projects.

An aerial view of Karura Forest when it was being hived off and dished out to individuals in the late 1990s. The public has lost Sh18.4 billion through irregular and illegal land allocations in three forests, says a new report by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. Photo/File

The new report by the Kenya National Human Rights Commission and the Kenya Land Alliance shows that the market value of the 1,179 acres of Karura Forest currently in illegal hands is worth Sh8 billion. That amount is enough to run the free primary education programme for about two years

Entitled Unjust Enrichment: The Making of Land Grabbing Millionaires, the report says Sh8 billion is enough to rehabilitate the 130-kilometre Sultan Hamud-Mtito Andei section of the Mombasa-Nairobi Highway. The project was recently opened by President Kibaki, and will cost Sh6.3 billion.

Leave a balance

This would still leave a balance of Sh1.7 billion, more than the loan extended to Kenya by Opec Fund for International Development to meet part of the costs of rehabilitating the 105 kilometre Emali-Oloitokitok Road.

Karura Forest is one of the last indigenous forests that clean up the city environment by absorbing large amounts of carbon dioxide produced by industries. It also serves as a water catchment, and can be developed into a place for recreation.

According to the report, one acre of land at the forest sells for between Sh6.8 million and Sh12 million.

According to the Ndung'u Report, various excisions took place between 1964, and 1996. It, for example, shows that a school was in 1990 allotted 26 hectares. No legal notice was published.

In 1989, a Cabinet minister was given 2.78 hectares of the land.

But a bigger plunder of the forest was witnessed between 1996 and 1998, when half of what remained of it was illegally allocated. In 1996, the Ndung'u Report says, a freehold title for the forest was issued, which covered 564 hectares, leaving just 477 hectares of the forest area of 1.041 hectares at the time.

A year later, a legal notice excising 85 hectares was published, although it had been signed a year earlier. No gazette notice was published.

According to the new report, irregular allocations of public land amounted to a rip-off worse than the Goldenberg and Anglo-Leasing scandals.

The report on three forests - Karura, Ngong Road and Kiptagich - shows that the public lost Sh18.4 billion.

The 19,000 families living in the city's Kibera Slums would be living in modern low-cost houses if the money accruing from the land hived off Ngong Forest were used for the purpose.

Assuming each unit accommodates five people - and for Kibera, the number may well triple - this would ensure that the right to housing 91,000 people. And assuming further that each unit would cost Sh500,000, the money would put-up 18,345 such units.

Just 10 individuals and firms own Sh920 billion worth of prime land from excisions from the forest, according to the commission and land lobby report.

The forest between Jamhuri Park, St Francis Church, Karen and Langata roads, Bomas of Kenya, Langata Women's Prison and Kibera, has systematically been subdivided and allocated.

In 2001, for example, its land was illegally excised, subdivided into 32 plots and allocated to 13 companies.

Between August 28 and 29 of the same year, the 13 companies sold the plots to Kenya Pipeline Company for Sh262 million.

Illegal allocations

Ngong Forest was gazetted in 1932, at a time when it covered 2,900 hectares. The bulk of illegal allocations occurred in the 1990s.

Now the former forest land has residential houses and a hospital replacing indigenous trees and herbs.

The report shows that the money made out of the lost forest land is just what is required to rehabilitate the Mombasa-Bachuma Gate section of the Northern Corridor, widen the Airport North Road, turn the section between the Machakos turn-off and the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport into dual carriageways and rehabilitate the Mai Mahiu-Lanet Road.

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