April 18, 2012
Investors who fled North Eastern Kenya because of rampant insecurity in the 1990s are returning to participate in its development, officials and analysts say.
"The region was racked with fear and trepidation due to insecurity reports. Many people were killed and businesses attacked," said Siyat Abdi Hussein, a real estate developer and consultant.
"In the early 1960s, the Northern Frontier Districts, now comprising Garissa, Mandera, Wajir, Marsabit and Isiolo Counties, agitated to secede and join the greater Somalia Republic. The secession war gave way to bandits who terrorised the region, killing hundreds of people and maiming more," Hussein told Sabahi.
"But thanks to the security structures and the community, the armed bandits who roamed this region until the early 2000s are no more," he said.
North Eastern Provincial Commissioner James ole Seriani told Sabahi that the region, once dotted with huts, is now host to high-rise buildings.
He said recent al-Shabaab land-mine and grenade attacks in the region will not stop the property boom.
"We never used to attract tourists, but for the last couple of years, despite the threats of al-Shabaab, we have registered pockets of tourists coming to the region for business and leisure," Seriani said.
Seriani said the government welcomes the new interest the region has sparked with investors, but illegal investments will not be tolerated. Officials are making sure the property boom does not become a way for pirates to launder money, he said.
"Garissa is the gateway to North Eastern Kenya and the Horn of Africa, giving it a vantage point in terms of trade and development. But as much as the region is ripe for investment, we will not allow illegal money to play part in that development," Seriani said.
Investment and development consultant Ibrahim Rashid Ahmed told Sabahi that over the last two years, demand for property has increased so much that some investors are willing to pay more than double for a piece of land.
Buyers are coming from abroad as well as other parts of Kenya, he said, adding that business office space is in such high demand in Garissa that builders are booked before even laying the foundation.
"[Investors] have been targeting strategic lands and proposing tempting prices to those who own land but do not have the capacity to develop their pieces," Ahmed said.
But Ahmed said the nascent boom has also drawn property speculators, and urged caution.
"We are seeing cartels of land brokers amassing lands and eyeing gullible developers," he said. "Investing 3 million shillings ($37,500) in a piece of land that is officially valued at 500,000 shillings ($6,250) without being provided with a title deed can cause chaos," he said.
Authorities in charge of land investments told Sabahi that they are overwhelmed by the unprecedented demands for land, considering the region was once an isolated destination.
"Most of the time, I have to switch off my cell phone to sleep," said Mohamud Ahmed Santur, the Garissa Municipal Council clerk who deals with potential land investors. "There is unprecedented interest for land now and this has peaked for the last two or three years."
"An eighth of an acre currently sells at between 2 and 3 million shillings ($25,000 and $37,500), up from 200,000 shillings ($2,500) just four years ago," he said.
Minnie Wacuka, an officer at the Garissa Lands Registry, told Sabahi that people have been engaging in transactions on land without first checking whether it is available.
"Some of the land being fenced as private property has been reserved for other purposes, such as public parks, and we have had conflicts where there is eviction or the actual owner wants to develop the land. We have also witnessed clan clashes sparked over land-ownership disputes," she said.
Garissa District Lands Officer James Kemoni told Sabahi that the government has taken steps to stop fraud.
"Some cartels out there sell land to unsuspecting buyers, then resell the same plots to different persons, without the government authorising such transactions. Anyone wanting to buy land is asked to verify its status with us before parting with their money," he said.
Garissa Mayor Ismail Mohammed Garat told Sabahi that the region has potential. "We dream to be a world class [city] reminiscent of Dubai," Garat said. "In the next five years, we dream of a city where people from this region forget about other towns."
But he said the city has a long way to go.
The boom has not touched residents who live in earthen huts overshadowed by expensive bungalows, ranch houses, flats, duplexes and triplexes.
Mohammed Hussein Abdi, a 56-year-old cobbler in Iftin in Garissa, told Sabahi that he could not keep up with the pace of the growth.
Garissa is quickly entering civilisation, Abdi said. "It is good, but some of us who do not have money have been bewildered by the change."
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