Kenya: Meru, Isiolo Residents Seek Court's Help Over Land Taken By KDF

Hundreds of Burat residents in Isiolo are up in arms over the beaconing of a disputed piece of land by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) School of Infantry despite a pending matter in court.

The over 20,000 affected residents moved to court in Meru following -- following an eviction letter issued in August 2019 -- and got orders barring the government from evicting them from the disputed land until the application made by six residents on their behalf was heard and determined.

The Environment and Labour Relations Court also barred the government from carrying out any survey work or adjudication of the land in Isiolo North until the matter is determined.

Speaking during a community meeting in Kakili, the irate residents claimed that the soldiers were erecting the beacons at night, and expressed fears that their land could be grabbed under the county government's watch and in spite of an active matter in court.

Obey the law

Led by Kuresha Bille, the residents from Kilimani, Elsa, Ngusoro, Bulesdima, Kabarnet, Akadeli, Kakili and Kambi Turkana areas demanded that the military halts the exercise, warning that they will not allow the beaconing to continue as no one is above the law.

"We will stand firm and defend our land. We will not be cowed by intimidation and threats by the military because we know our rights," said Ms Bille.

They also claimed that the soldiers had enclosed KK community borehole, which is normally used by their livestock, forcing them to travel longer distances in search of water.

Meru land

In Meru, 13 residents last Thursday obtained orders stopping the KDF from evicting over 7,500 families or further development of a 17,000-acre piece of land in Tigania East.

The Land court issued interim orders barring the KDF 78 Battalion from evicting the families from the disputed land.

The court also certified as urgent an application filed by lawyer Rodgers Ruthugua on behalf of 13 petitioners who fear they will be rendered landless once the KDF School of Artillery 78 Battalion evicts the land owners.

"An order of maintenance of status quo be and is hereby issued directing the petitioners to continue occupying and using land reference No. Ngaremara/Gambela, adjudication section LR No.7019 as they do," Justice Lucy Mbugua ordered.

Their application comes one week after another one was filed by Lawyer Marius Maranya seeking the court's intervention over the same disputed land.

Through Mr Ruthugua, the petitioners have sued the Kenya Defence Forces, The Defence Cabinet secretary, Lands and Physical Planning Cabinet secretary and the Attorney-General as first, second, third and fourth respondents, respectively.

The Meru county government and the National Land Commission (NLC) have been named as interested parties.

Living in fear

The lead petitioners, Lawrence Ndegwa, Vincent Murangiri and Henry Mworia, told the Nation that residents are now living in fear since they were threatened with eviction.

The residents had been reduced to living like refugees on their own ancestral land after KDF started digging trenches, laying beacons, blocking road access and the imminent threat of eviction from the land, the petitioners said.

They said part of the suit land had been reserved for Nyambene national reserve as a northern grazing area belonging to the Ameru community.

"The residents have occupied the land since early 1900s and have established permanent settlements, enjoying lives therein without any disturbance and, currently, there are at least 7,500 families who live in the disputed land," they said in court documents.

According to the documents, there is a chief's camp, two assistant chiefs' camps, a police station, primary schools, dispensaries, churches, mosque, polling stations, secondary schools and a proposed conservancy which are threatened by the KDF activities.

The petitioners noted that the KDF (78 Battalion) fraudulently acquired two title deeds -- LR No.17098 and LR No. 7019 -- last year, hiving the whole part of the land, which was a shock to the residents.

"In cahoots with the second respondent, the first respondent caused to be issued by the third respondent two title deeds for subject parcels in the name of KDF. They started to purport to give oral notices to residents on intentions of expanding their military camps," the court documents say.

The court ordered an inter partes hearing which will be on May 26, 2021.

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