TWO Kenyan rights groups urged voters on Wednesday to scrutinise candidates running in this month’s national election, saying some contenders were guilty of land grabbing.
Protected areas and land belonging to state-owned c
ompanies worth some 34,5 billion shillings (US$550,7 million) were illegally given away since around 1961, according to a report by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) and the Kenya Land Alliance.
Some 15 parliamentary aspirants were named in the report as having acquired land illicitly.
“Ours is basically to ask that we vote wisely,” Odenda Lumumba of the Kenya Land Alliance told a news conference.
“Even if they are elected, we still have a battle to ensure that they are not again appointed as ministers, because one of them could easily land at the Ministry of Lands.”
A 2004 report commissioned by President Mwai Kibaki found that top politicians, including Kenya’s first two presidents, grabbed huge tracts of public land for political patronage and recommended that they be tried and the land returned.
Among the political figures cited in Wednesday’s report were Defence minister Njenga Karume and a firm belonging to the family of opposition presidential candidate Raila Odinga.
The company is said to have bought land for a molasses plant at about a tenth of its value, paying 33,000 shillings per acre.
Karume, a close Kibaki ally, is said to have acquired 1 000 acres of land at about 2 600 shillings an acre, then sold it back to the government at about 186 000 shillings per acre.
“We have a problem if our political class cannot even acknowledge that they got things illegally, irregularly,” KNCHR chairman Maina Kiai said.
“The best way to move forward is for them to come forward and say: ‘We are sorry, we regret it, we’ll pay the market value, then we can begin the process of reconciliation.”
Odinga and Karume were not immediately available for comment.
On December 27, Kenyans vote in what is likely to be the east African country’s tightest contest in 44 years of independence.
Many say the closeness of the race shows how democracy has advanced since independence from Britain in 1963, but others worry that it heightens the potential for fraud and violence in a campaign marred by chaos and vote buying allegations.
One man was killed and four cars torched in election violence in different parts of western Kenya, newspapers say. — Reuters.