Only Coast provincial commissioner Eliud Mahihu could identify andrecommend those who qualified for these plots.The rationale was that Africans needed a leg-up to invest in the lucrativetourist industry and had to be given priority.
Patrick Kamotho Githinji Contesting for Central Ward Representative on NARC.
The reality was that those who earned Mr Mahihu’s favour were highly placedpolitical and civil service elites and their business associates.Having very few of their own in the right offices, the coastal communitieslargely missed out on the ensuing scramble for the beach plots, now worthbillions.
Coast Province bears the dubious distinction of having the largest numberof squatters in Kenya — an anomaly that did not begin with the Kenyattagovernment but was only deepened by it.How the current mechanisms set up under the National Accord signed byPresident Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga will navigate thisexplosive subject remains to be seen.
What is clear from records is that land grabbing by the independence elitedisinherited millions of Coast residents, planting the seeds of discord inthe province.Under Mr Mahihu’s watch, old friends, senior civil servants, shrewdbusinessmen and farmers who had made millions out of good global coffeeprices pitched tent at the Coast to acquire beach plots.From the mansions they would later build, the newly rich dreamt of a placefrom where they could watch the clear horizon of the sea and, perhaps,retire in their sunset days — rich as Croesus.
*His own nest*The script was simple. All one needed to own a prime beach plot was
Mr Mahihu’s signature. The PC used his position to feather his own
nest — building a multi-million shilling empirethat made him one of the richest people in independent Kenya.The hundreds of letters he received at the height of the scramble for beachplots make interesting reading. The hitherto unseen but declassifiedgovernment records show how powerful individuals, most from outside CoastProvince, acquired the beach plots.
It is a story that has never been told and puts the controversial sale ofbeach plots — which at times evokes anger and animosity at the Coast — inpolitical and economic perspective.During Mr Mahihu’s tenure, money alone could not buy a beach plot. The mostimportant thing was catching the eye of PC Mahihu, followed by PresidentKenyatta’s signature.
At the peak of the scramble, Kenya’s economy was robust, firing at anannual growth rate of 8.3 per cent per annum between 1969 and 1973 whenKenyatta issued the beach plot decree.The decree was also communicated to Lands Commissioner J.A. O’Loughlin andto Mr Geoffrey Kareithi, permanent secretary, Office of the President;Attorney General Charles Njonjo and Mr N.S. Kung’u, Lands and Settlement PS.Although it was never made public, the directive was clearly communicatedto all senior people in the Lands ministry.
Mr O’Loughlin, who had been retained as an expatriate civil servant, had atough time handling the gang around the President, whose land hunger wasinsatiable.*Did not reveal*
In a letter dated December 31, 1971, Mr O’Loughlin told an applicant thathis case would be referred to a “higher authority”.“All applications for beach plots and second row plots are now beingconsidered very closely where the purchaser is a non-African,” he wrote.What O’Loughlin did not reveal was that from then, he was to merely act asa rubber stamp for Mr Mahihu’s decisions.
Kenyatta’s reasons for issuing the decree are contained in a letter MrMahihu wrote to one of the largest real estate agents in Malindi, T. E.Allfree. The PC wrote that the move aimed to “bring out the imbalance of beachownership in Kenya’s water front. I am aware that certain individuals havebeen talking ill of everything in Malindi recently. I am also aware thatthese intended buyers have also been telling people that they should notcare about the local administration and that they will get land any way,whether the administration agrees or not.”
That letter was meant to send a clear message to real estate agents that notransaction would happen at the beach without Mr Mahihu’s signature.Mr Allfree had submitted 24 applications to Mr Mahihu in a letter datedDecember 21, 1971. He had unsuccessfully tried to book an appointment withMahihu and instead sent a letter a day later.
Perhaps to show Mr Allfree the people he should target for the beach plotsales, Mahihu wrote back on January 18, 1972 and recommended the sale of aone-acre plot to Cabinet minister Paul Ngei, the sale of Mrs Tailby’sestate in Malindi with buildings and shops to Mr Ronald Ngala; 80 acres ofundeveloped land to a Mr John Njenga Mwangi, and a Lamu seafront plot to MrA. Madhubuti.
A month later, Mr Mahihu wrote to the registrar of titles in Mombasa, MrG.G. Ndoria, asking him to “keep a record of beach plots that are beingsold so that Africans could be informed of these plots to enable them todeal directly with the sellers.”
That month, Mr Mahihu only recommended 17 transfers — the most notablebeing to Mr J.K. Mutua, then in the Prisons Department and to Mr JohnGitonga, who wanted 23 acres “to build a hotel” and to Mr Peterson MunuheKamithi.
To acquire beach plots required several tricks and personal interventions.By employing such tactics, former Central Bank governor Duncan Ndegwa andAttorney General Charles Njonjo, became some of the richest Kenyans today.*Help for friends*
Last year, Mr Ndegwa invited President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga tohis Mombasa Continental Resort which had had a facelift. The trio werecaptured gazing at the ocean from the balcony.Mr Njonjo would write on government letterhead in both English and Kikuyuto Mr Mahihu as he sought help for friends.
In one of the letters, he wrote by hand asking Mr Mahihu to approve atransaction. “Dear PC”, he wrote, “If you will recommend this. I will handthem back to Njenga (Commissioner of Lands). Turenda guthondeka developmentna twina Singh uria unjakagira (we want to develop this property and we arewith Singh, my contractor) and it is a good and viable project. All thebest and when you have signed it please return it to me — Yours, CharlesNjonjo”.
The letter, only dated Monday, reached Mr Mahihu’s office on May 6, 1978,and he approved the application, whose director is listed as Gurdev Singh,to acquire eight-and-half acres.
*Powerful figure*Two days later, he approved Mr Kenneth Matiba’s purchase of five acres inNyali to build a hotel and nine days later approved Mr Ndegwa’s applicationfor 2.6 acres in Nyali. Another transaction approved that month was that of a
two-acre plot owned by the Central Bank and purchased by Cianda Estates Ltd
of James Njenga Karume and Wariara Njenga for Sh400,000. Mr Karume was
by then a powerful figure in central Kenya where he chaired the
Gikuyu, Embu and Meru Association, a political-cum- investment vehicle.Ordinarily, the registrar of titles in Mombasa ought to have receivedapplications and forward them to the Commissioner of Lands. But, in someinstances, the applications were taken directly.
Among those who took their forms directly were former Kugumo MP J.F.C.Munene, Rose Holiday Cottages, Dee-Dee Investment, Rahab Mumbi, Matiba’sAlliance Development, Ndegwa, T.P Kiambi and Mr Andrew Ngumba, formerNairobi mayor.On May 10, 1974, Mr Ndegwa wrote a personal letter to Mr Mahihu after they“spoke over the telephone”, enclosing two transfer forms for plots he wasexchanging with Waljee Hirjee Estates which was in liquidation.“Their plot which adjoins my plot No 851 is ideal for new development and Ihave found it fit to effect the exchange to facilitate this development,”he wrote.
Three days later, Mr Mahihu approved the exchange and Ndegwa was to get 2.9acres in LR 847 in exchange for his plot No 852 and another 2.8 acres inexchange for his plot No 847. Also officials at the office of the President
took advantage of occasions when they saw President Kenyatta to get
approvals for beach plots. Forwarding an application to Mr Mahihu,
an Office of the President under-secretary Chris Kahara wrote at the bottom
of the letter: “While I have an opportunity to see the President to grant
consent for that farm, I thought I might take the opportunity to also obtain
consent for the Nyaliproperty.”Mr Kahara and his wife Agatha were buying 5.83 acres for Sh1 million inNyali and 328 acres in Diani for Sh140,000 previously owned by Mrs ReabyWailes. Mr Mahihu approved both sales.Other purchases he approved included that of a company called Sleep-EzeeLtd listed as owned by Mr John Michuki for a 25-acre beach plot in Tiwifrom Mr Vera Gray.
Patrick Kamotho Githinji Contesting for Central Ward Representative on NARC.
Another interesting purchase was that of five acres by Kenyatta’sbrother-in-law and State minister Mbiyu Koinange. This happened in December1975 when Kenyatta was on holiday at the Coast.Taking a trip to the Coast to see Mr Mahihu was the norm, for once he hadyour trust, you could purchase any number of plots. The case of Dr ChrisObura, a prominent Nairobi dentist, easily stands out.In June 1974, he travelled to Mombasa to see Mr Mahihu as he wanted a beachplot. Dr Obura was given an application form to acquire 25 acres in LR3855/55 Tiwi in the municipality.
In a note to the Commissioner of Lands, Mr Mahihu said: “I would begrateful if you could forward the application of Dr Obura (to PresidentKenyatta). Dr Obura has been to see me enquiring when his application wouldbe completed. I have forwarded new forms once again for your attention aswe did some time back.”