More than 50 families from Mwangaza in Isiolo County have been rendered homeless after their property worth millions of shillings was destroyed by police officers enforcing a court order granted to a man claiming ownership of the disputed land.
The families had built their houses on the piece of which is about three acres.
The residents said they were ambushed around 3am on Sunday while asleep by a contingent of police officers who came in a lorry and two Toyota Land Cruisers, and armed with a bulldozer, they started demolishing their houses without giving them reasons for the eviction.
Gripped by fear, the residents started screaming while fleeing for safety as others watched helplessly as the bulldozer descended on their semi-permanent houses.
Following the eviction, nearly 10 children have been reported missing.
The locals quickly mobilised themselves and started pelting stones towards the police officers. This forced the police to throw tear gas in order to disperse the violent crowd that demanded explanation for the demolitions.
Gunshots rent the air for nearly two hours as the officers engaged the residents, who barricaded a section of the Isiolo-Moyale highway and the feeder road connecting the area to the Isiolo International Airport, in running battles.
Three men were shot in the stomachs and legs during the confrontations and are nursing wounds at a local hospital.
Ms Doreen Nkatha, 40, whose four children went missing, did not manage to salvage any of her properties during the curfew time demolitions.
“We are so much pained because this is outright discrimination considering that we have an active case in court. I do not know where my children, who ran out of the house, went to,” the mother of five said while she breastfed her five-month-old son.
Erick Mwenda watched in shock as his mother’s cemented grave was demolished, exposing her casket.
Nowhere to sleep
“I do not know where we will sleep because all our household items have been destroyed. They also demolished the grave where we buried my mother a few weeks ago,” he said, adding that they were living in fear.
Mr Franklin Kirimi, another victim, was arrested for questioning the officers’ action but was later released.
“I immediately rushed out when I heard my gate being crushed. They bundled me into their Land Cruiser but later released me. I only have the clothes I am putting on left,” Mr Kirimi said.
The residents maintained that they have lived in the area for over 40 years and that the man claiming ownership of the property wants to defraud them of their land.
“We were not served with any notice despite having a court case with the person. The Ministry of Interior should take action against the officers for unleashing terror on us,” said Ms Martha Karambu.
Ms Veronica Akiru, whose cousin’s rental building whcih was almost complete was brought down, said the demolition dealt a huge blow to her kin who, on receiving the news, collapsed and was rushed to hospital.
“She was shocked after we informed her the building where several millions of shillings had been pumped had been demolished,” she said.
The protesters torched the bulldozer and demolished a perimeter wall on a land opposite the affected area, said to be owned by a senior county government official, and where they have threatened to camp if immediate intervention by the county leadership is not offered.
Local leader Lucy Mworia said a notice should have been issued prior to the eviction, terming the action as unacceptable, especially during the current harsh economic times.
“We are experiencing hard economic times and many people cannot even afford a meal. This is not acceptable. Why enforce a court order when women and children are sleeping?” Ms Mworia posed while calling on well-wishers and humanitarian organisations to assist resettle the affected families.
Isiolo Deputy Governor Abdi Issa condemned the incident, saying an eviction cannot be effected at night and that all parties must be served with notices.
Dr Issa accused police of using excessive force on citizens whom they should protect.
“Evicting people at night is not good and could polarise the county especially now that we are headed to campaigns. We (county) will not allow any resident to be evicted from their rightful land,” Dr Issa said.
Activist Valentine Nyaguthii said the land tussle should be amicably resolved so that no one is hurt and asked the county government to intervene.
Contacted, Isiolo Sub-County Police Commander George Kariuki said the demolitions were as a result of a recent court order but did not divulge further details on when it was issued and to whom.
He said several suspects were arrested for malicious damage to property and that the eviction was carried out at 4am and not an hour earlier as claimed by the residents.
The residents accused the police officers of sinister motive as, before the bulldozer descended on their homes, power had been disconnected about 20 minutes earlier.