NAIROBI, Kenya – Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said Thursday a vast coastal zone nearly the size of Luxembourg around a proposed multibillion-dollar port area had been stolen, fueling a wave of massacres.
The land, stretching over 2,000 square kilometres (800 square miles) was taken “under dubious and corrupt circumstances” by 22 companies between 2011 and 2012, Kenyatta said, ordering the land to be repossessed, after evidence released in a report by the land ministry.
Last month over 100 people were slaughtered in a wave of attacks, largely claimed by Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked Shebab militants, although Kenyatta has previously said those killings were the work of “local political networks.”
“This criminal conspiracy has dispossessed individuals and families living in this region of their land and opportunities for improving their well-being,” Kenyatta said Thursday.
“It has also helped fuel the current insecurity being experienced in the region, and frustrated our efforts in building cohesion in the country.”
The area, near Kenya’s restive border with war-torn Somalia, surrounds a planned $24 billion (18 billion euro) port project zone intended to serve nations across East Africa, including oil pipelines to South Sudan.
“This criminality will neither derail nor delay one of the most transformational regional trade and investment projects of our time,” Kenyatta said, after meetings earlier Thursday with the leaders of Ethiopia, South Sudan and Uganda.
The land also surrounds the UNESCO-listed tourist island of Lamu, once popular with high paying visitors including Hollywood celebrities, but now off limits, according to most travel warnings issued by Western nations.
Kenyatta said he ordered the lands ministry “to revoke and repossess these land parcels with immediate effect.”
Despite Kenyatta’s insistence that local groups carried out the attacks, Somalia’s Islamists say killings were further retaliation for Kenya’s military presence in their country.