Residents want Uhuru to help end land row with military

Burat residents protest in Isiolo town over encroachment of their land by KDF School of Infantry in September 2019.

Photo credit: Waweru Wairimu I Nation Media Group

Residents of Burat ward in Isiolo County want President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene and resolve a protracted land dispute pitting them against the Kenya Defence Forces School of Infantry.

Thousands of residents from Elsa Ntirim, Ngusoro, Leparua, Kakili, Bulesdima, Kambi Sheikh, Kabarnet and Akadeli held peaceful demonstrations in Isiolo town, protesting what they called encroachment on their land by the military.

They accused the soldiers of defying an agreement reached 41 years ago between KDF and area elders that only allowed the military to temporarily use 100 acres, saying they had extended the boundaries.

The encroachment, they said, had undermined farming in the area that is one of the county’s bread baskets, impoverishing them and exposing them to hunger.

Led by Mr John Loyan, the residents said the land was issued to them by the founding President Jomo Kenyatta in 1972 and they have lived on it since.
“We allowed them to use the land temporarily while they looked for a permanent solution but they have been encroaching onto our land and preventing us from constructing permanent houses,” he said.
The residents alleged that there are plans to evict them and urged the government to relocate the training area to a sparsely populated area of the county.

Mr Gollo Sari, 70, lamented that instead of protecting locals, the soldiers were subjecting them to suffering by encroaching on their land.

“Our lives are at risk due to ammunition used by the soldiers during training. A majority of us who used to farm many years ago have been left with no livelihood,” he complained.

In August 2019, the military issued a 30-day eviction notice requiring about 20,000 residents in eight villages to vacate the land, forcing those affected to seek redress in a Meru court, which stopped the plans until the case is heard and determined.

Presenting a petition to County Commissioner Geoffrey Omoding for presentation to Mr Kenyatta, residents claimed soldiers were extending the boundaries of their operation area and putting up permanent structures outside the agreed area against the court directive that ordered the status quo to remain.

In May last year they claimed soldiers were putting up beacons in the disputed land though the Environment and Land Court had barred the government from carrying out any survey work or adjudication of the land until the case was determined.

Ms Quresha Bille, a resident, asked the government to annul a purported title deed allegedly issued to the military, adding that their eviction would not only affect their livelihoods but over 10 schools, six health facilities and several State and non-State projects.

She claimed soldiers had blocked the Lewa River that they rely on for irrigation and domestic and livestock use.

“They should be offered alternative land elsewhere and away from the town,” she said.

Youth leader Rose Lomilio threatened to mobilise residents to boycott the August elections unless the government settles the matter.

“We have complained for a long time and our cries have never been heard and responded to by the concerned authorities,” she said.

Isiolo Sub-County Peace chair Dabaso Boru said the government should relocate the camp to a remote area in the county because it was established after residents had settled there.

“There is no need to disrupt people’s lives when we have enough land to relocate the camp to,” he said.

They said the delay in confirming the land ownership had violated their rights as they could not use it as collateral to get loans, put up buildings and other assets and seek compensation for damage to their crops by wildlife.

They have made appeals since 1995 through peaceful demonstrations.

The group wants President Kenyatta to confirm that the land belongs to them, ask the soldiers to honour the agreement with local elders and resolve the conflict quickly.

“We ask him (President Kenyatta) to order a survey and demarcation of the land to pave the way for title deeds to be issued,” Mr Loyan said.

Mr Omoding, the county commissioner, assured residents that the petition will be handed over to President Kenyatta and promptly acted upon.

“We will find ways … you can be assisted because there are some things that can be done as the case continues. We will also ensure any court verdict is strictly implemented,” he said.

On the Lewa River, Mr Omoding said the matter will be addressed, maintaining that water from the river should only be used for the benefit of the communities and not irrigation due to persistent drought.

“No one should threaten you. The government has heard your grievances and is watching”.
 

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