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Crisis over former cement factory land escalates

A tussle pitting the local community and a cement manufacturer over ownership of a piece of land in Athi River is threatening to erupt into violence.

Despite recent demolitions of over 300 homes built on the land, East Africa Portland Cement Company (EAPCC), which claims to be legitimate owners of the land, has not admitted that it sanctioned the destructions and no other claimant has come out to take responsibility. Currently, the piece of land is home to thousands of people residing there under different entities.

National Land Commission chairman, Mohammed Swazuri, has  visited the disputed piece of land several times, but no conclusive report has been forthcoming about its ownership. And possibly of a scam that involves residents, investors and the cement company now looms large.

EAPCC advertised the land for sale in 2012 through a Kenya Gazette notice.  In a letter dated January 8, 2013 the Ministry of Lands sanctioned the sale.  However, the land had already been sold to “investors” who have already developed parts of it.

For instance, Superior Homes who own Green Park estates purchased part of the land in 2001 and later developed it.  However, the firm has been engaged in court battles with Eapcc over the issuance of a title deed.

Following the 2012 gazette notice, the local community who has lived in the piece of land for decades joined hands to raise money to purchase part of the land. They now fear some of the money could have been looted by unscrupulous individuals.

Different societies under the Syokimau Mavoko Bright Homes Limited claim to have paid Sh220 million to EAPCC for 900 acres, a fact we could not immediately authenticate. In correspondence showed to
People Daily, 
EAPCC had also expressed interest to sell LR8784/4 Kunkur to the local community since the company had finished mining activities on the land.

The scam seems to be a well-orchestrated scheme involving duping different entities to consolidate funds from unsuspecting land buyers. Once the first group paid for the land, a second group was brought on board and more money collected.  The tug-of-war escalated in 2014 when the factory began evicting some settlers. 

Within the same piece of land, 7,000 members of Aimi Ma Lukenya Society claim to own a 4,298-acre title deed acquired in May 1980, a decade after making payment for the piece of land.

During a recent tour of the disputed land, we found homes, churches, schools and commercial buildings as well as water and electricity infrastructure.  Elderly residents claimed they have lived there for decades showing graves of relatives from 1950s. 

“It’s unfortunate that I am living in hell on my ancestral land which we forced to purchase many years ago. We purchased what we owned and we are still being tossed around and living in confusion and threats from the company,’’ claims Joyce Ngunga.

Joel Kioko, another resident, wondered why EAPCC has been hiring goons to intimidate them instead of adhering to the rule of law. “We have a title deed that has been verified and certified by the Ministry of Lands. We have buried our kin on this piece of land,” added Suzan Mulwa, 89 years.

“President Uhuru Kenyatta is keen on fighting corruption and protecting the rights of the less fortunate.  I call upon him to intervene and ensure justice for the poor prevails,’’ she said. 

Efforts to reach EAPCC managing director Simon Peter ole Nkeri and his predecessor Kepha Tande over the matter have been futile. The land is currently valued at approximately Sh10 million per acre.

According to Aimi Ma Lukenya Society chairperson Julius Mutua, they legally possess the land.  “I call upon agencies concerned with land matters to come in first to establish the truth surrounding this piece of land.  It is not right and justice to fight a local community leaving harmoniously without following the rule of law. Kenya is governed by a Constitution which should be respected and adhered to,” said Mutua.

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