When US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt introduced the “New Deal” as a national development strategy in the wake of America’s recession of the 1930s, the focus was to engineer economic growth and promote industrial and agricultural development through government-funded programmes.
Close to nine decades after Roosevelt’s New Deal, a group of individuals have invented a “new deal” in Kisii county in which private land is stolen through the use of criminal networks involving rogue police and court officials.
Kisii’s “new deal” involves bribery, forgery, fraud, death threats and gangland execution of those who stand in the way of the land grabbing cartels.
Operating under the concept nicknamed “the new deal”, the group uses rogue court clerks to manufacture fake succession documents, which they use to disinherit families whose relatives have died.
They are said to enjoy police protection and their victims are either threatened with arrest when they complain to the police or their complaints are ignored. Court clerks and other officials are also said to be on their payroll.
Peter Makori, a one-time journalist in Kisii now based in the US, was shocked when he returned home to find his land in Gesonso area in Kisii municipality, grabbed.
“When I reported the matter at Gesonso Police Station, the OCS and DCIO threatened to have me arrested,” said Makori, who says he had owned the land in question for 18 years before someone presented a fake title deed on the property.
A former civic leader in the defunct Kisii Municipality, a retired land surveyor and a politician who has unsuccessfully run for a parliamentary seat, are said to be part of the grabbing cartel.
The trio usually blackmail county officials to have their way. Kisii county Land Registrar Steve Mokaya confirmed the existence of a cartel which targets private and public land.
He said he recently intercepted 45 fraudulently acquired letters of grant purportedly issued by a Kisii court, which were presented to him for title deeds issuance.
He claims to have rejected a Sh1.6 million bribe from a member of the cartel to issue unprocedurally processed title deeds. And because of his uncompromising stand against the cartel, Mokaya has received death threats.
He has, however, vowed not to be cowed by the threats saying he has initiated public accountability reforms that define how people are served at Kisii county Lands Registry.
“For the last one-and-a-half years that I’ve been in Kisii I have initiated policies that have enabled us provide services with efficiency. We’ve managed to minimise bribery and reduce double title deed allocation,” he said.
In his first few months in Office, Mokaya transferred long-serving land officials suspected to have been privy to double title deed issuance.
To ensure sanity in office, Mokaya also banned idlers at the land registry who used to target civilians for extortion with promises of quick services.
He said he has created an open-door policy where every citizen has the right to be served directly without going through middlemen.
“The middlemen and the land grabbing cartels are offended by my new policies,” said Mokaya. He said the land grabbing craze in Kisii had reached alarming proportions and urged local leaders to address the menace.
“This issue is a time bomb. When you see people being abducted and killed over land issues, the worst is yet to come,” said Mokaya.
A recent incident in which an employee of Kisii county is suspected to have connived with grabbers to have a pastor abducted in Bokeire sub-location in Bonchari and brutally killed after she resisted a questionable land deal, shows the impunity with which the gang operates.
Residents say the land grabbing criminals have been emboldened by the slow pace of justice at the local courts. “These criminals operate on the precept that since the Judiciary has a shortage of judges, they can buy time though frivolous applications in court and wear down the land- owner and finally end up taking over the land after long and winding court contests,” said a victim of the land grab who requested to remain anonymous.
And in Makori’s case, the Kisii Lands Registrar nullified the fake deed and referred the matter to police who are yet to act on the matter.
Undeterred, Makori went to the Environment and Land court but hearing of the case has been bogged down by the respondent’s applications for adjournment, despite the fact that he’s refused to file a defence.
“These criminals have compromised the entire system. But I don’t think they’ve managed to reach the judges,” he said.
Makori said the Judiciary should take steps to ensure any court clerks in Kisii found to have colluded with the land grabbers are sacked and prosecuted for abuse of office.
While calling for the restoration of sanctity of title deeds, Makori wondered: “How do you explain a situation where the criminals accessed the High Court seal to falsify letters of grant for land belonging to families whose loved ones have died?”
A spokesman at Kisii Law Courts confirmed there were fake letters of grant that bore forged signatures of judges and magistrates in succession cases that had not been filed at the judicial institution.