The grabbing mania of land around Lake Victoria and the threats caused by the menace
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11 April 2020
Author :   Protus Onyango
Victoria Primary School in Kisumu, Kenya


KISUMU, Kenya (PAMACC News) - Schools in Kenya only opened for the new term two weeks but the 2000 students of Victoria Primary School in Kisumu might soon have no place to learn from.

The school’s land measuring 3.6 hectares, located in the Kenya’s third city’s central business district has been grabbed by powerful individuals, leaving the fate of the pupils unknown.

Edward Omalla, the school’s head teacher says the problem began in 2012 when part of the land was forcibly annexed, subdivided and given to some individuals.

“We are living in fear. The teachers and learners don’t know what to expect. Our school’s land is registered under numbers 644 and 647. But in 2012, some of the school manage committee members colluded with land grabbers and sold 3.6 hectares. To date, this land has not reverted to us. It is a case that has been fought for eight years now,” Omalla said.
He is optimistic that government has now sent its investigators to get to the bottom of the problem and save the school that is a stone’s throw away from President Uhuru Kenyatta’s State House in Kisumu.

The school’s case illustrates the insatiable appetite of land around Lake Victoria. The lake, the largest fresh water in Africa and second largest fresh water lake in the world has lost some of its land, including that located on its shores to businesspeople and politicians.

Now, the once fresh lake has its waters poisoned and the residents can no longer enjoy the fish, either from the proceeds of selling the fish or eating it. Politicians have hived off junks of land around the lake to erect palatial homes or tourist hotels.

Investigations by The Standard revealed that public land valued at Sh1.654 billion is in the hands of private individuals, who illegally acquired it.

Identified as Block 7 within Kisumu municipality and found on the shores of the lake, this land stretches from Kisumu international airport, through Lwangni beach, Kenya Railways, State House, Impala animal sanctuary to the famous Dunga beach, renowned for fish, school visits and boat rides.

Here, there are 16 pieces of land that have been subdivided from the original Block 7. Records show the pieces are worth Sh1.654 billion.

Through the efforts of EACC, some pieces have been returned to the public. They include Block 7/509 that was owned by Dr Oburu Odinga, former Bondo MP and elder brother of Raila. He is a nominated MP of the East African Legislative Assembly.

In its ruling delivered on July 26, last year, High Court Judge, Justice Stephen Kibunja ruled that the lease given to Oburu by then Commissioner of Lands Sammy Mwaita was not protected under Article 40 of the Constitution. The case was filed by EACC.

The court ruled that the piece of land worth Sh35 million is part of the larger land set apart as reserve and vested in the Kenya Railways Corporation (KRC) and was not available for allocation for private purposes. Oburu was accused of colluding with Mwaita, now Baringo Central MP, to defraud Kenya Railways of the half-acre of land.

The judge noted that the properties belongs to KRC and had been alienated, hence not available for allocation.

 “No diligent public officer at the Lands registry and Survey Department, would have processed the allocation and subdivision of the suit land, and the registration of the lease thereof without ensuring and satisfying themselves that the relevant approval, consent and documents had been availed before them,” Kibunja ruled, adding the subdivision, issuance and registration of the lease over the land in the name of the accused, was fraudulent, irregular, illegal and unprocedural.

Block 7/548 and Block 7/454 worth Sh140 million were also recovered, same to Block 7/541.

George Mogare Oira, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) regional manager said the commission has also been able to recover a public park within the city centre.

“Taifa Park, registered as Block 7/240 and called Kisumu public park and gardens has been recovered and will soon be used by members of the public. It is worth 370 million and was illegally acquired by Odalo Mak’Ojwando Abuor, Fredrick Otieno, Paula Akoth, United Plaza and Rashid Mwakiwiwi,” Oira said.

He said the land grabbers are so brazen that they don’t even spare protected property. “This was the case when Charles Oyoo Kanyangi and five others illegally acquired Block 8/22 that belongs to the judiciary and is situated very close to Kisumu Law Courts. It is valued at Sh830 million. We have also recovered it,” Oira said.

He said the commission has finalized investigating the matter and will soon present to court suspects for fraudulently acquiring the land valued at Sh22.5 million.

“We will next month present 14 cases in court. Eleven of these are related to land. We are also investigating another 70, which are also mainly dealing with irregular and illegal land acquisition,” Oira said.

The land grabbing mania in Kisumu attracted Uhuru, who, five months ago, ordered government agencies to secure land that original belonged to Kenya Railways.

As a result, many buildings were brought down to pave way for the construction of Kisumu port, a project the President hopes will improve transport and business within the East African Community (EAC) members, made up of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan. One of the establishments demolished belonged to former Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo.

The illegal acquisition of public land and establishment of businesses along the lake have given rise to another environmental hazard.

Lake Victoria, Africa’s largest fresh water body and the world’s second largest lake, is no longer fresh as it is polluted, overfished and choked by weeds.

The once clean lake is now choking with pollution from industrial and agricultural wastes, as well as raw sewage from Kenya’s third largest city of one million residents. The massive water body’s problems are compounded by illegal fishing, catching of juvenile fish, and infestation by the invasive water hyacinth.

A carnivorous Nile perch, a large fish breed that can grow to 200 kilogrammes (440 pounds) was introduced into the lake two decades ago. It has since wiped out nearly half of the 500-plus endemic species of Victoria cichlids. These are colourful fishes that once thrived within the lake.

“This lake is in a very sorry state. Everything about the lake is wrong. Fishermen are using wrong fishing gears, but nobody arrests them. Industries are discharging waste into the lake, but no action is being taken,” Moris Okulo, a trained ecologist who has worked as a guide at the lake’s Dunga beach in Kisumu for the past 20 years.

He lamented that some people have built structures including latrines inside the lake with the knowledge of law enforcing personnel, but the authorities are turning a blind eye to the blight.

Lake Victoria covers 68,800 square kilometres (26,500 square miles) and has six percent of its surface area in Kenya, 43 percent in Uganda, and 51 per cent in Tanzania, according to the Lake Victoria Fisheries Organization (LVFO), an inter-governmental fisheries management institution.

Despite the problems, Lake Victoria is believed to be the most productive freshwater fishery in Africa. Each year it yields more than 800,000 metric tonnes of fish with a beach value of up to $400 million and export earnings of $250 million, according to the LVFO. The fishing industry support the livelihoods of nearly two million people and helps feed nearly 22 million people in the region, according to the organization.

But the existence of the lake is now threatened, with Kenya National Cleaner Production (KNCPC) pointing out that 88 industries operating around the lake collectively dump seven tonnes of industrial waste into the lake every year. Yet none of the authorities in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania prosecute offenders.

Sewage is another major source of pollution. On the Kenyan side, four major towns of Kisumu, Bondo, Homa Bay, and Migori that border the lake have malfunctioning sewage treatment plants or none at all. Just 10 per cent of households in Kisumu city are connected to the sewer system, according to an environmental and social impact report for a project to upgrade portions of the system. “Consequently, raw sewage is often discharged into the lake directly from unconnected sources through open drains or partially treated sewage from the treatment systems,” the report states.

Open sewers running from all corners of the city and deliberately directed into the lake are evident on the lake shore.

“The designers of the city did not consider the new settlements that are still coming up in Kisumu. As a result, the sewage system that was put in place cannot cope with the current pressure,” said Antony Saisi, Kisumu County Director of Environment at the Kenyan government’s National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).

Fortunately, in the town of Homa Bay a sewage treatment plant is now being constructed right by the shore of Lake Victoria with financing from the World Bank. Until it is completed, raw sewage from the broader Homa Bay County, with a population of 960,000, will continue to make its way to the lake.

At Dunga Beach in Kisumu city, public restrooms serving over 10,000 people who visit the beach every day hold pit latrines suspended right over the lake.

“We have not been able to tame washing of vehicles inside the lake because of lack of political support. We are dealing with hooligans who are politically connected,” said Saisi.

Behind the beachside facilities, the flies celebrate upon open sewer trenches discharging directly into Lake Victoria. Meanwhile, food kiosks erected on platforms extending into the waters of the lake serve thousands of visitors every day. The kiosks have no solid waste collection services, which means napkins, fish bones, bottle caps, and plastic bags also end up into the lake.

Collins Rabala, a fisherman at Dunga beach, said that he and his fellow fishermen often stay in their boats out on the lake for more than 15 hours at a stretch. “We carry food with us when we go fishing, and when it comes to answering calls of nature, we have no choice but relieve ourselves in the lake,” he said.

As a result of all the human waste pouring into the lake, recent study revealed traces of estrogenic endocrine disruptors in the lake. All water samples analyzed from nine sites in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania tested positive for several estrogenic compounds that can be released from human urine and faecal matter.

The study, co-authored by Paul Mbuthia, an associate professor of veterinary pathology at the University of Nairobi showed that high concentrations of such hormonal chemicals can cause abnormalities in animals, including humans.

“They interfere with normal organ system. With high quantities of estrone, chances of getting animals becoming more feminine are very possible. Others can cause tumors in the system,” Mbuthia said.

To save the lake, a regional body called Lake Victoria Environmental Management Programme (LVEMP) is working with support from the World Bank, the Global Environment Facility (GEF), Sweden and East African Community partner states to reduce environmental stressors throughout the lake’s drainage basin and to enhance the basin’s ecological integrity.

The project that has been running from 2009 aims to solve deteriorating lake water quality due to sedimentation, pollution, declining lake levels, the resurgence of water hyacinth and other invasive weeds and over-exploited natural resources throughout the lake basin.

Kenya is home to the Winam Gulf, where Dunga beach is located. Saisi said the gulf is the breeding ground for nearly all the fishes in the lake, and fishing is prohibited there. But is the favourite spot for fishermen in the lake.

New World Economic Forum Report released this week titled Nature Risk Rising: Why the Crisis Engulfing Nature Matters for Business and the Economy shows that globally, 115 million tonnes of mineral nitrogen fertilizers are applied to croplands each year, a fifth of these nitrogen inputs accumulate in soils and biomass, while 35 per cent enter oceans.

The report also shows there has been a 70 per cent increase of invasive alien species in non-native species, with adverse impacts on local ecosystems and biodiversity.

 This article was first published by The Standard Group

The Writer is a Bertha Fellow.

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