Kenyan Government Seeks to Take Over Land From Foreigners

Foreigners owning huge tracts of land, whose lease is about to expire, are likely to lose their prized assets as the government starts to enforce the law on land ownership.

The move will affect multinationals and individuals with tea, sisal and coffee estates in some of the most arable lands in the country on 99-year leases.

Lands Minister James Orengo said they were working on a law that would allow the government to review the expiring leases, especially those held for speculative purposes.

“There are some leases of 99 years, which are expiring, and some more are to expire. We will interrogate them afresh, and if we find that they have been held for speculation purposes, we will not renew them,” he said on phone from his Ugenya constituency.

Article 65 of the Constitution states that a person who is not a citizen or a company with at least one shareholder who is not a citizen may only hold land for a 99-year lease tenure at most.

The Sixth Schedule of the Transitional Clauses says: “On the effective date (promulgation of the new Constitution), any freehold interest in land in Kenya held by a person who is not a citizen shall revert to the Republic of Kenya to be held on behalf of the people of Kenya, and the State shall grant to the person a ninety-nine year lease at a peppercorn rent.”

Pay for the lease

Peppercorn rent is the lowest or minimal fee a person will be required to pay for the lease.

The Constitution also requires that any other leases, which are beyond 99 years, be reduced to the former.

However, foreigners who would have successfully applied for dual citizenship, as allowed under the new Constitution, will be spared.

Mr Orengo said the changes were meant to ensure efficient land use and correct anomalies that saw foreigners being awarded thousands of hectares of land as Kenyans were reduced to squatters.

Between 1900 and the 1940s, most Kenyans living in Rift Valley and parts of Central Province Highlands were kicked out of their fertile land, which was given to white farmers on leases of 999 years by the colonialists.

The locals were settled in what was called reserves — which have bred the present squatter problem in Kenya.

After independence in 1963, the government through the Million Acre Scheme begun to resettle Africans in the former White stolen highlands at the same time reducing most of the leases to 99 years.

On Monday, Lands Commissioner Zablon Mabea said the affected parcels include tea and coffee estates in Nandi, Uasin Gishu, Kiambu, Naivasha and Nakuru counties. Others are in Nyandarua and Thika.

This means that some of the tea and coffee companies listed on the Nairobi Stock Exchange could be affected by the move.

Mr Mabea said the ministry was compiling a list of land on 999-year leases.

“We aim to complete the exercise in a month,” he said.

Mr Orengo warned that some foreigners had started to subdivide their large tracts of land for sale to beat the new law.

“Over the years, some of them have seen what the law says and have subdivided their land wanting to sell it. They should know that we are not keen on such moves and will not allow them,” he said.

The minister said the public will have a chance to contribute to the law in order to address the perennial disputes over the scarce resource.

“We want issues of land debated publicly so that we can find the solution to it,” he said.