Use US state visit to resolve historical land injustices

A Del Monte shop in Thika.

President William Ruto’s state visit to the United States this month presents a golden opportunity to resolve the decades-long tussle between the people of the Murang’a and Kiambu counties and US fruit processing conglomerate Del Monte. It’s one of the biggest challenges in the area.

The visit is expected to cement ties between Kenya and America and is of key interest, especially to the people of the Kandara area of Murang’a, who are keenly observing how the President amicably settles our long-awaited quest to resolve historical land injustices between them and Del Monte.

The core issue is the land that was taken from the residents in the 1970s to pave the way for Del Monte’s huge swathes of pineapple plantations. The residents were evicted and displaced in informal settlements such as Madharau, Gachagi, Gatanga, Umoja, Makenji, Nguthoro and elsewhere in the country.

This displacement is what triggered the descendants of the initial victims to seek justice through avenues that were created by the 2010 Constitution. Victims of these historical injustices, under the auspices of Kandara Resident Association (KRA), moved to court to compel Del Monte to cede the land.

Separately, the National Land Commission (NLC) recommended that the land Del Monte occupies be resurveyed and the excess portion given to KRA and county governments of Murang’a and Kiambu in the ratio of 70 to 30, respectively. Commendable progress has been made on this front but it is important to explain to Kenyans why this issue is weighty.

End or mitigate the tensions

Addressing land grievances would create mutual benefits for both Del Monte and the local communities. Providing land ownership to the communities would economically uplift the area since land is a factor of production. That would end or mitigate the tensions between the locals and the fruit company.

Importantly, while Del Monte has been accused of several injustices and crimes, it would be an injustice on our behalf if we did not recognise the function the company plays in the economy. Its operations have created direct and indirect employment for over 20,000 people, making it a crucial source of livelihood for many individuals and families.

The closure of Del Monte would have far-reaching consequences not only for the company and its employees but also the broader community, especially the people of Kandara, who have been closely connected to its operations for decades. The loss of such a major employer would cause a significant economic downturn, increased unemployment and loss of income for many families, worsening poverty and hardship in the region. In short, it is not in anyone’s interest for Del Monte to close shop but there must be closure on the land issue.

Fortunately, President Ruto has shown by example that his administration is focused on creating win-win solutions between multinationals such as Del Monte and the local communities.

In February, the President officially opened the Lipton Tea Innovation and Technology Academy, marking the successful culmination of talks he spearheaded with the world’s largest beverage company on his official trip to the Netherlands a few months earlier.

These discussions secured a Sh500 million investment from Lipton Teas and Infusions in the academy, along with a pledge for further local investment by the corporation.

The victims of these historical injustices expect the President to hold similar talks with Del Monte in Washington, DC to resolve the land issue once and for all. They are equally hopeful that this will happen, considering that during his trip to Murang’a in February, the Head of State pledged to have title deeds processed once Del Monte cedes excess land.

Mr President, the time has come to decisively address this issue. Providing land to the victims of the historical land injustices will make a positive impact that will last many generations. We have full confidence in your ability to deliver on this promise.

Mr Kiome, a resident of Kandara, Murang’a, works in the healthcare sector. [email protected].