13 October 2006

Kenya: Squatter Families Get Land At Scheme After 37 Long Years

Nairobi — The resettlement of squatters at Chepyuk scheme of Kopsiro Division, Mt Elgon District, has been fraught with controversy for the past 37 years.

But after the long history of disputes and what observers call political interference, which left the targeted beneficiaries in uncertainty, the Government says it has finally completed the resettlement.

For many years, attempts by the Government to find a lasting solution to the squatter problem suffered a setback because of what has been described as political interference by the local leaders.

But now the Government appears to have turned over a new leaf in the controversy after 1,732 people were identified for resettlement.

Each of the families has been allocated 2.5 acres, and are now struggling to have a new beginning after clinging onto the elusive hope of owning land and homes.

A closed chapter

The Western provincial commissioner, Mr Abdul Mwaserah, says only landless families are beneficiaries.

"We have done our best to ensure that only the needy families are allocated 2.5 acres of land each at the scheme, and the issue is now a closed chapter," he adds.

But even as he speaks, the beneficiaries who have moved onto the fertile plots are living in fear because of insecurity posed by armed gangs thought to be opposed to the resettlement.

Early this week, two people were shot dead when they went to harvest maize on their farms. They were attacked by about 20 people.

Mr Bramwel Meroto, 59, and 43-year-old Mr Joseph Merekan left their farms after the recent clashes at the scheme in which more than 15 people were killed. The farmers sought refuge at Kapkateny trading centre.

And last month, an assistant chief and three other people, including his daughter, were killed when gangsters raided their homes.

The killings have sparked fears, with some resettled families leaving their new homes for fear of being targeted by the killer gangs.

Mr Mwaserah says the Government has deployed security personnel to fight back the attackers whom he describes as a bunch of criminals.

The security personnel, he says, have tracked down and killed two criminals they described as most wanted, fanning further animosity. The Government, he adds, will not bow to pressure from criminals out to cause fear and despondency.

"There are really a small number of criminals who are out to disrupt the lives of people settled at the scheme, but we shall not spare them," the PC says.

The insecurity has disrupted learning in schools and left many families in the cold.

Before the resettlement, the scheme was awash with brokers and speculators waiting in the wings to clinch a deal for anybody interested in buying land.

Their presence bogged down the resettlement and could be linked to the wave of crime at the scheme.

Many families complain that they lost money to the brokers who promised to help them out in the resettlement programme.

But the PC says leaders of the Soy and Ndorobo clans were approached and told to identify only the most needy families to be considered for resettlement.

He adds that the leaders and the people were happy with the resettlement and fully supported the Government effort.

According to Mr Mwaserah, the Government wants to put behind it the long-drawn controversy over the resettlement.

"We were racing against time and wanted to settle the families and stop any further destruction of the water catchment," he says.

The destruction and contamination of the vital catchment in Mt Elgon had reached alarming levels, forcing the Government to act.

Initially, the Government planned to resettle only 600 families, but the long delay has led to an increased number, he adds.

All families who illegally moved into the forest were evicted to pave the way for the resettlement.

After balloting for the 2.5 acres for each beneficiary was done, their names were made public to ensure undeserving cases were not on the list.

Mr Mwaserah says the squatters are being settled in phases, and that the Government is processing title deeds.

He explains that a plot by some influential people to manipulate the process and benefit from the allocations has been frustrated by what he terms high level of transparency.

"The provincial administration only helps to facilitate the resettlement to ensure it is done in a fair and transparent manner, and those claiming otherwise have a hidden agenda, but it is too late for them," the PC points out.

He says the exercise is open to scrutiny by all the interested parties, arguing that there is nothing to hide.

People who are not happy with the manner the allocations have been done may refer the matter to him for investigations, he advises.

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