By Odhiambo Joseph
BBC News, Mombasa
The Kenyan lands ministry has said it will repossess all land owned by "absentee landlords" in the coastal strip and redistribute it to squatters.
Half of those who live in Coast Province are squatters
The ministry says it will seize such land in Coast Province by next Monday, in line with a presidential decree.
The land question is a particular problem in the province, where half of the 4m residents are squatters.
Most of the absentee landlords are of either British or Arab origin, while some are Kenyan politicians.
Acting Lands Minister Professor Kivutha Kibwana said the ministry would invoke the compulsory acquisition clause in the Lands Act to repossess land given out to foreigners and companies in the 1920s by the colonial government, and distribute it to the coastal people immediately.
Successive governments have promised to solve this thorny issue, which has persisted for almost 43 years since independence.
After many previous broken promises, local MP Samwel Gonzi Rai says the latest pledge should be treated with caution.
"It is a very serious issue in the area, in fact it is a time bomb," he said
Retired Mombasa teacher and "senior squatter" Mwalimu Mwatata agrees: "The title deeds that they have these days are those of the colonial time," he says.
"We fought for independence to get our land, and it is now that we are to be given back our land.
"Why should we continue paying somebody who is not even here, who we don't know?
The minister, who was speaking in Mombasa, said squatters who have lived on land owned by absentee landlords for more than 12 years will automatically qualify for allocation.
Prof Kibwana said he would issue a Kenya Gazette notice in a week's time declaring vacant all land owned by absentee landlords who had never put them to any economic use, and would issue title deeds to the landless.
On a recent tour of the region, President Mwai Kibaki promised to distribute some 30,000 title deeds to local people.
He advised anyone claiming land ownership in the area to take up the issue with the relevant government department before the government moves in to repossess the land.
Not everyone believes the government's promises
"The government will resettle wananchi [citizens] on this land and if need be it is ready to be taken to court over the matter."
Many people celebrated but others suspected a cynical link to elections due in 16 months' time, especially as this was one of Mr Kibaki's key election pledges in the last campaign.
"We are seeing some politics," said Maina Mbugua, a squatter in Mombasa.
"We have not had a process of trying to solve this problem right from the ground... so the whole exercise leaves loose ends."