August 11, 2008

Squatters Occupy Land at Kenya’s Main Airport

Text of report by Ben Agina and Isaac Ongiri entitled: "Squatters invade airport land, endanger flights" published by Kenyan privately- owned daily newspaper The Standard website on 11 August

Squatters have invaded corridors that aircraft use to approach the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA). Illegal structures are mushrooming on the land set aside for security, as a new estate, Kiangombe, comes up. The land, measuring about 1,000 hectares, is a corridor for minor and major aircraft landing at the airport, flying at an altitude as low as 180ft above the ground.

When The Standard visited Kiangombe, construction was going on in earnest. Some of the squatters are suspected to be proxies of land speculators. Without questioning by GSU [General Service Unit] officers on guard, we walked for two hours freely in the huge land, which is supposed to be under 24-hour police surveillance.

As we walked, low-flying planes criss-crossed the sky, indicating the danger the residents exposed themselves to. The barriers at the main entrance from Mombasa road have been dismantled and stolen by suspected residents of Kiangombe. Signboards indicating "No stopping, no idling" for motorists on the main road have also been removed. Permanent and temporary structures were being built, with "landlords" putting up residential and commercial structures.

"It is an idle land that is why the landless are getting themselves a piece. We are also Kenyans and must get somewhere to call home," one landlord told The Standard. It is suspected that individuals in the aviation industry and government were involved in the illegal allocation of plots that has seen several acres of the protected land hived off.

Transport Minister Chirau Ali Mwakwere said he had noticed with disbelief the open grabbing of airport land by Kiangombe residents.

"We cannot let this happen. We are organizing with the Ministry of Land to evict the encroachers," he said.

Mwakwere warned those putting up structures on the land that they were wasting time and money, as they would be thrown out. He also warned those involved in the allocations that they would face the law.

"There is no free land for allocations inside that plot. Anyone trying to push himself there, or collecting money from the public to allocate them land there, is wasting time," the minister said.

A security officer at the site said a terrorist using an AK47 rifle could easily bring down a plane flying at 300 feet above the air path. The officer, however, said it was difficult for the police to evict the residents because nobody had complained.

"Yes, we have seen people building homes and shops here, but it is difficult to take any action because the Kenya Airports Authority has not complained," a policeman said.

Attempts to reach the Kenya Airports Authority Managing Director George Muhoho were fruitless as his phone went unanswered.

In 2002, an Israeli plane escaped missile attacks hurled by suspected terrorists as it took off from the Moi International Airport in Mombasa. Police later recovered an abandoned shoulder- fired missile-launcher in the neighbourhood.

Encroachment of the airport land could jeopardize the recently signed open skies agreement between Kenya and the US. The agreement opened opportunities for the two countries to fly directly into Kenya or the US.

India's financial capital, Mumbai, has been battling to evict a million slum dwellers who forced themselves into airport land adjacent to Bombay international airport. The situation has jeopardized direct flights into the city.

Originally published by The Standard website, Nairobi, in English 11 Aug 08.

(c) 2008 BBC Monitoring Africa. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.