16 April 2018

Kenya: Leaders, Residents Disagree on How to End Mwea Land Dispute

The uneasy peace on the 44,000-acre Mwea settlement scheme has been shattered by the Friday chaos which left several people hurt.

For about 30 years, communities occupying the land have tussled over ownership as State officials, politicians and residents engage in blame game.

Close to 200 security officers were deployed to the area on Saturday.

Five people, including retired district commissioner Ireri Ndong'ong'i, were seriously injured when a group opposed to the demarcation of the land attacked them with pangas and knives.


They had gone to inspect some demarcated pieces when the young men attacked them.

The men also burnt Mr Ireri's car before disappearing into the bush.

They then blocked roads with logs and dug trenches to stop security teams and "government-imposed strangers" from getting into the land.

The disputed land in Mbeere South Sub-County of Embu County is occupied by the Mbeere, Embu, Kamba and Kirinyaga communities.

"The land was initially given to 7,200 people but the number rose to about 9,000," Mbeere South MP Geoffrey King'angi said.


Residents accuse some government functionaries of fuelling the violence "by importing strangers".

"Imagine a situation where you have developed your piece of land and planted trees on it then someone with a posh car is brought in and you are ordered to leave. Where do you go?" Mr John Mwasya, a resident of Mwonjo township asked.

Mr Barnabas Mwangi from Karisa village said the delay in issuing title deeds had given grabbers a chance to descend on the settlement scheme.

"The government is the cause of tension. Hundreds of people have been camping at Makima divisional headquarters for four days waiting to be given allotment numbers. The government is oppressing us," Mr Mwangi said.


A resident who requested anonymity said police had been brought in the area to scare them.

"Mwonjo has borne the brunt of the two-day operation. The officers are breaking into houses and destroying property. They have threatened to arrest any man or boy seen in the area," he said.

Mr King'angi and Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru differ on how to end the dispute.

Ms Waiguru wants the demarcation and erection of beacons on the land stopped, insisting that the settlement scheme belongs to Kirinyaga residents and was wrongly moved to Embu County in the 1960s.

"Kirinyaga people will not exchange their birth right with an unfair and rushed solution to the dispute. The purported surveying and allocation of land to the 7,200 people was not inclusive," she said.


"There was no public participation. The scheme residents and the nine clans of the Agikuyu who are the primary stakeholders were neither involved nor consulted."

Mr King'angi insists that the allocation must continue "because the beneficiaries are genuine".

"During division of the scheme, Kirinyaga was allocated 10 per cent of the land, Embu got 20, the Kamba had 30 while Mbeere people were given 40 per cent," he said.

"It was mutual agreement under the watchful eye of the Interior Ministry principal secretary."

The lawmaker added that more than 4,000 title deeds have been processed and issued to owners.


"The area is sparsely populated. All occupants were brought in from other areas and have a legitimate claim," he said.

"The problem is in Kirinyaga and they should solve their differences. Some of them got titles but are hiding them."

The lawmaker said the Friday attackers were incited by "wealthy individuals who fear losing their large tracts of land".

Area OCPD Ahmed Mohammed said surveyors would not be withdrawn from the land, adding that government is determined to end the row.


"We are in the second phase of showing beneficiaries their parcels. A handful of hooligans hired by brokers and politicians want the process stopped. This land has been used as a campaign tool by politicians for long," Mr Mohammed said.

He said two people have been arrested in connection with the attack, adding that some elders and religious leaders want them released.

Deputy County Commissioner Beverly Opwora said phase one of the exercise was to identify public utilities in the land while Phase two involves showing allottees their parcels.

She urged those visiting the land to trace their parcels to involve the administration for provision of security.


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