Having a piece of land that you can call your own is perhaps the most sought after acquisition by Kenyans. The desire, nay, craving to have a piece of land, has seen land prices in Kenya go through the roof; unreasonably so. This craving for land has driven the speculators’ market to a whole new level; with asking prices in Nairobi for an acre of a vacant piece of land reaching as high as KES 500 Million (over $6,000,000).
In Kenya, it really does not matter what else you own, or how rich you are; if you don’t own land, the verdict is that you are poor. Owning a piece of land, whether developed or not, appear to be the first yardstick of ‘wealthiness’ in Kenya.
This obsession with land has attracted the attention of fraudsters who pounce on unsuspecting buyers excited about the possibility of having a piece of earth with their name on it. Most buyers therefore throw caution to the wind as these savvy fraudsters easily convince them that the piece of land they are about to buy is as legit as any could be.
Collusion with Government Officials
The extent of the pervasiveness of land fraud in Kenya is so deep that even land officials, including land registrars, have been roped in by these fraudsters. Take for instance a former land registrar in Kajiado who absconded an arrest warrant after he was exposed for presiding over numerous land scams in the county. His personal assistant was nabbed early in 2014 with over three hundred fake Title Deeds and green cards; an obvious pointer to the fact that land fraud in Kajiado County had reached pandemic levels. The Lands Registrar is the person whose signature appears on a legitimate land title. If you cannot rely on this person in matters of land, where else can you turn to?
Do a Thorough Audit of the Seller(s) and the land before committing yourself to purchase any piece of property in Kenya, especially land, you need to do a thorough audit of the person selling the land and the documents presented to you. First, you need to have the seller or appointed representative point to you the beacons demarcating the land you plan to buy. The location of the land should conform to the representation of the same on the mutation form. Get a map of the area from the relevant government surveying department. By doing this, you will achieve a number of things: 1) You will establish the exact location of the land; 2) You will avoid the possibility of buying public or reserve land and; 3) You will save yourself the heartache of buying land that simply does not exist.
Once you are convinced that the piece of land you’ve been shown is legit, your next step should be to establish beyond any reasonable doubt that the person purporting to be the owner is the actual owner. The first step in this exercise should be to get a copy of the seller’s national identity card and compare the details with what is in the documents. After this, proceed to the lands registry to perform a search for the land. Should the results of the search come out positive, this should be a huge step towards confirming ownership authenticity. However, this should not be the end of this audit. Next, go over to the registrar of person’s bureau and affirm that the details on the seller’s national identity card are accurate. Any discrepancy at any of these audit stages should send red signals. You should not proceed before these have been convincingly explained.
If the amounts involved are huge, don’t rest your audit here. In fact you can approach CIDs from the CID Headquarters Land Fraud Department. They are always willing to help if approached. You will be surprised at how helpful they are. The reason I recommend involving the CIDs is because they deal with land fraud cases every day. They know the tell-tale signs of a potential fraud since they are the ones that investigate these cases. Rather than having the CID investigate a land fraud case after it happens, why not involve them to ensure that it never happens in the first place?
As a final precaution, you may want to take a picture and a thumb print of the seller. These details may appear minor, but they could be very helpful in case you are defrauded. Remember that fraudsters are not fools. The moment they sense you are on their case, they will disappear into thin air before you can spell ‘Mississippi’.
By Innocent Mwangi, September 18, 2014