Kenya: Family's Desperate Bid to Protect Ancestral Land

29 September 2020

When Julius Wachira met a homeless man a few years after independence, he chose to heed the call of the founding father to help the less fortunate. A compassionate man, he offered the stranger shelter in his farm as the young nation struggled with poverty and illiteracy.

The two forged a healthy relationship and the stranger, Mathew Muburi, even became a part of Mr Wachira's family. But as years passed, this act of kindness returned to haunt his children in a bizarre case that has shocked friends and relatives.

"His generosity was his undoing and many times he was taken advantage of. But the biggest folly was a decision he made in 1970 when he was 48 years. He took in a destitute named Mathew Muburi into our family and offered him shelter in our 12-acre piece of land," the family spokesman, Alois Mwangi, 53, told the Nation at their home in Nganda-ini village, Murang'a County.

Over the past 12 years, the Wachiras have moved from one court to another in a desperate attempt to protect their ancestral land from a squatter. Mr Muburi lived happily with his benefactor's children and villagers tell of how cohesive the family was. In 1981, Mr Wachira died and left behind a widow, Melanie Wairimu, and 10 children.

Affordable instalments

"With my father's death, we saw no reason to kick Muburi out of our family," says Mwangi. As the administrator of the estate, their mother declared a wish of her departed husband that Mr Muburi be given an acre of land at Sh30,000 in affordable instalments, which he accepted. In 1983, Mr Muburi built a home in his parcel and married Lucy Watiri.

"By the time our mother died in 1996, Mr Muburi had only paid Sh3, 000 for the acre. He never paid us a cent until his death in 2002, leaving behind a widow, whom we did not kick out of our land," offers Mr Mwangi.

Things were peaceful until 2008 when Ms Watiri laid claim to the whole 12 acres before the area chief. At the time, Mr Mwangi and his elder brother, Njoroge Wachira, had substituted grant of estate administration to themselves.

"We thought it was a joke, a mental issue. It was an outrageous claim. All villagers told us to ignore her. After all, the title deed was in our father's name," recalls Mr Mwangi.

The chief also laughed the widow out of his office and advised her to appreciate the generosity extended to her by the family. To their shock, Ms Watiri moved to the District Officer's office in 2011 and made the same claim. By then, the land had 8, 000 tea bushes, indigenous trees, permanent and semi-permanent houses.

"The DO did not see her logic and neither did the Land Dispute Tribunal. We committed ourselves to give her an-acre-and-a-half on top of what our parents had given her husband. We also waived the Sh27, 000 debt. The next thing we saw on October 28, 2011 were court papers that Ms Watiri had sued us seeking to reverse the rights to administer our father's estate. She wanted the rights to be transferred to her," offers Mr Mwangi.

In the suit papers, Ms Watiri was disputing the 1992 grant to Melania Wairimu to administer the estate that she had obtained in June, 3 1992, which she now in October 28, 2011 wanted revoked so that she could be cited as the administrator either independently, or with any chosen family member of the late Mr Wachira.

Case dismissed

"A case of revocation of the grant made in this cause has not been made out. The application dated October 28, 2011 is hereby dismissed with costs," read the judgment by WM Musyoka on August 30, 2013 at the High Court in Milimani.

What followed this judgment is a chronology of a case after the other seeking eviction orders, the last being reference ELC No: 490 of 2017, which Judge Jemutai Kemei in Murang'a dismissed on September 17, 2020.

As things stand, the 12-acre parcel ref Loc 9/Kanyenya-ini/574 has two 'official' title deeds; one in the name of Julius Wachira and the other Lucy Watiri. Judicial advisories and directives have continued to sprout like mushrooms, forcing the counsel for the Wachiras to write to the president of the Court of Appeal on September 24, seeking clarifications of the clashing pronouncements on the matter.

As the letter awaits response, Ms Watiri maintained to the Nation that "what is happening is due process".

For the Wachiras -- 10 children aged between 45 and 63 -- only time will tell if their 29 descendants will have any inheritance.

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