Kenya: Locals Demand Pay for Land Taken 30 Years Ago for Vihiga Govt Offices

29 January 2019

People who gave out their 30-acre piece of land in 1985 for the construction of government offices and other facilities in Mbale town, Vihiga County are now demanding compensation.

The villagers say they were relocated to a 40-acre Musinji-Shaviringa settlement scheme, which is still technically a forest reserve under the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and located 24 kilometres from Mbale town, but were not given title deeds.

On Tuesday, they petitioned the National Land Commission (NLC) and the county government seeking for compensation and award of title deeds.

GOVERNMENT OFFICES

On the land in Mbale town presently are the headquarters of national and county government offices.

The building houses the county commissioner, the governor, various county and national government offices as well as county police administration offices.

Also built on the land is Vihiga County Referral Hospital, Mbale Rural Hospital, Kenya Medical Training College, the prison, municipal offices, municipal market, the parking lot and several government houses.

The Nation established that the operations of the technical committee formed in 2015 to spearhead the process of degazetting the forest reserve and settlement of the people had stalled due to lack of funding.

COMMITTEE FUNDING

The committee needed Sh10 million but only Sh3.2 million was released by the National Treasury, according to a member.

Membership of the technical team included county surveyor David Kombori, lands registrar Kalori Okwaro and the secretary to the county lands management commission, Ms Belinda Akelo.

Others were a forester with the KFS, Mr William Cheptoo, and the county physical planner-cum-municipal manager, Mr Duncan Kuria.

Records at the county commissioner's office shows that the affected people are 300 in number.

In their petition seen by Nation, they are demanding that the government should honour the relocation agreement by giving them title deeds for the land parcels in Shaviringa to spare them the sufferings they are undergoing.

Led by Mr Fredrick Egunza who signed the three-page petition, they said delays in honouring the agreement have subjected them to a historical injustice.

PETITION

The petition was taken to the local NLC offices, the lands registrar's office and Governor Wilber Ottichilo.

"In 1985, Maragolis who comprise of approximately 60 to 80 families were moved from areas covering Mbale and Kegoye to make room for the construction of the present day Vihiga County headquarters and other government facilities," said Mr Egunza.

"All these Kenyans were moved to Tiriki location which previously formed part of Kakamega forest reserve. Each family was promised twice the land they occupied in Mbale."

NO TITLE DEEDS

The masses now fear that the promise to degazzette the forest reserve and issue them with title deeds is yet to be implemented 34 years later. In 2014, President Uhuru Kenyatta gave a directive on the matter but this is yet to be implemented, about four years later.

"We are now being treated as squatters in our own country. Our Maragoli traditions - such as circumcision - are completely different from the Tiriki traditions. At one time, these differences nearly led to a conflict with the Tiriki demanding that we forego our tradition in favour of theirs," Mr Egunza said.

They lament that forest officers have subjected them to harassment, accusing them of encroaching on the forest reserve.

They further complained that they have had to lose their property as government officials watch.

POWER POLES

Mr Egunza said that staff from Kenya Power stormed their farms and cut down their trees in 2015 for use as electricity poles but refused to compensate them on grounds that the land belongs to a forest reserve.

They fear they could be evicted for lack of title deeds and now want issuance of the same expedited.

The county physical planner and a member of the relocation technical committee, Mr Duncan Kuria, said it could take long before the affected people are finally issued with title deeds.

OPERATIONS STALLED

Mr Kuria told Nation that lack of funds has stalled operations of his committee and that they can only resume in September once funds are available.

"Treasury gave us Sh3.2 million but failed to release the remaining funds from a budget of Sh10 million making the process stall at the survey level. The process of degazetting the forest reserve and giving out title deeds was a presidential directive issued in 2014 and the process begun in 2015," said Mr Kuria.

"I have briefed the current governor (Dr Ottichilo) about it and he has offered to have funds included in the 2019/2020 budget to re-start the process. Operations of the technical committee may start again in September," he added.

The then county commissioner, Mr Boaz Cherotich, had assured the affected people that the process would be expedited and called on the families to cooperate with the technical team.

He is currently in Nyandarua County.

The settlement scheme sits on government land that comprises Kibiri Forest.

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