Mwangi Karanja.

Kiambu Dandora Farmers Company Limited Secretary Mwangi Karanja.  

| Richard Munguti | Nation Media Group

Deaths, revoked titles and threats in half-century court battle for Sh54bn Dandora land

A half-century-old land dispute in Nairobi's Eastlands appears far from being resolved after one of the key parties in the dispute, the Kiambu Dandora Farmers Company Limited (KDFCL), came out to set the record straight on the ownership and control of the Sh54 billion, 818-acre property.

In 1966, an acre of the land was valued at Sh350, which put the value of the entire parcel under LR 11379/3 at Sh200,000. Today, one acre of the said land sells for about Sh50 million. 

Although the land makes any prospective owner salivate, the original 225 shareholders who bought it claim they never tasted a pinch of the value of the land they expected to benefit their families. They died hoping the land would benefit their children. But today their children are being engaged by land grabbers and chased away by the police.

Over 50 land grabbers have lost their lives as they engage each other in running battles and murders. Among them was a former Nyeri Town Mayor, the late Stephen Mugo Mutothori, who was shot in the chest five times at close range by a buyer who allegedly paid Sh3 million for the piece of land. 

Kiambu Dandora Farmers Company Limited (KDFCL) Secretary Mwangi Karanja and his younger brother Joseph Nduati - grandsons of an original member of the company- recounted to Nation. Africa how they first set foot on the land in 1968 when they were two and three years old respectively.

Their grandfather, the late Mwangi Karanja, was registered as member 99 in 1966 after paying Sh1,170 to KDFCL.

A photo taken in 1974 shows a young Nduati with the late Senior Mwangi herding cattle on the said land. As court cases drag on, the pull and push for control of the property is now in its fifth generation, with more than 150 land cases filed in the High Court over the city's largest privately owned piece of land.

"We are the true owners of the 818 acres of land in Nairobi's Eastlands. This office represents the 225 members who came together in 1966 and pooled their resources to buy the land from the Khan family," says Mr Mwangi.

The Khan family conveyed the land to five trustees of the KDFCL - Kibicho Karanja, Reuben Kangara, Keingati Waiharo, Njuguna Kimani and Peter Gacheru Kingara. The certificate of title was issued to the trustees on April 8, 1970, together with a conveyance of the land. A deed of trust was executed and duly registered, stating that the trustees held the land on their own behalf and on behalf of all the members of the KDFCL.

The previous trustees have all died and the current trustees have been appointed to replace them.

"I am a grandfather now and we are still fighting for what should have been ours from the outset," Mr Mwangi told Nation. Africa as he perused documents.

The documents include court orders, decrees, judgments and resolutions reached between the Ministry of Lands and KDFCL in the landmark civil case No. 1348 of 1972 that has dogged Kenya's judiciary for the past 53 years. The case has been heard by over 30 judges, including Justice Mohammed Ibrahim of the Supreme Court.

Over the years, a number of groups have expressed interest in the case, which opened up a plethora of other cases from Case No. 1348 of 1972, paving the way for a protracted legal battle. These include Dandora Housing Schemes Limited (DHS), Falcon Kenya Limited, Amboseli Court Limited, the Commissioner of Lands, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) and other government departments.

Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital

Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital in Nairobi on December 22, 2020. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

The last Commissioner of Lands in the colonial government was the first to raise doubts about the ownership of the vast land when he questioned the five trustees who had received money from the 225 shareholders and paid a commission of Sh30 per acre in 1966/7. The commissioner wondered why they had changed the use of the land from agricultural to industrial. But in their response, they said they had to change their vision and mission on the vast land because of emerging economic issues brought about by urbanisation.

Asked by the Nation about DHS's claims, Mr Mwangi dismissed the allegations, saying the matter was settled in 1999 by the late Justice Kasanga Mulwa and finally by a High Court decree in 2006.

Documents obtained by the Nation show that in a 2001 judgment, the late Justice Mulwa dismissed with costs an application by the late Mr Cornelius Peterson Waithaka to have Falcon Kenya Limited - who claimed to have also bought the land from DHS - enjoined as an interested party in the proceedings of High Court Case 1348 of 1972.

Falcon had been brought on board by Mr Waithaka to finance the protracted legal battles and the subdivision of the vast land following the settlement of the ownership. The late judge overturned another ruling by the late Justice Frank Shields, who in 1993 had declared DHS the legal owner of the land and ordered the government to compensate the 225 members at Sh650,000 per acre for non-use since 1967, plus interest at eight per cent per annum until final settlement. This, calculated to date, will see the Kenyan government pay no less than Sh100 billion.

A 2006 High Court decree returned the disputed property to KDFCL for and on behalf of members whose contributions were made before July 2, 1967.

Documents in our possession, including receipts issued in 1966/7, identify the 225 original owners of the land by name and membership number.

The problems over the ownership of the land were knocked in 1974 when the then Commissioner of Lands, J N Njenga, gazetted his intention to acquire the land, although he did not identify the public body for which the land was to be acquired. The brothers believe he was aware of the ownership dispute, HCCC No 1348 of 1972, which was still pending in court.

Despite the dispute, the Commissioner of Lands proceeded and deposited an award of Sh1,316,980 with the High Court. The monies were finally returned to the Commissioner of Lands on July 20, 1993, following the decision of the late Justice Shields vesting ownership in DHS. A former Deputy Registrar of the High Court, Mr Bhatt, was instructed by Justice Shields to return the money to the Ministry of Lands as the Sh1,316,980 could not be the value of the land.

In a letter to the Commissioner of Lands dated September 21, 1990, the late Darius Mbela, then Minister of Lands and Housing, noted that the government was seen to be defrauding its own citizens.

Mr Mbela wrote: “Though the land had been acquired for public use, it has ended up being allocated to individual allottees for private use. The image thus created is that the government has taken land from its poor at a normal price, traded it, sold it to allottees at a higher price and helped enrich the better-placed members of society to better their lot. It is not a very happy picture.”

He consequently instructed the Commissioner of Lands to return the unallocated portion of the land, which was 320 acres, and to initiate a compensation process for the 500 acres at the current market value, alongside consideration for the lapsed period since acquisition. To date, Mbela's instructions have never been implemented.

In 2011, KDFCL filed a petition in the High Court, Petition No. 47 of 2011, against the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Lands, challenging the compulsory acquisition of the property and the alleged violation of their constitutional rights through the deprivation of land without compensation.

In an attempt to resolve the protracted cases, Lady Justice Mumbi Ngugi - then a High Court judge and now a Court of Appeal judge - ordered that all pending cases relating to the property be consolidated and heard together.

Abdilahi Muigai Muiruri,

Mr Abdilahi Muigai Muiruri, Executive Chairman Kiambu Dandora Farmers Company Limited during an interview at Nation Center Nairobi on September 8, 2023. 

Photo credit: Wilfred Nyangaresi| Nation Media Group

The brothers say the group advertised the case in the newspapers and no interested party came forward.

Through its executive chairman, Abdilahi Muigai Muiruri, the KDFCL cites documents, including a memo from the NLC verifying the status of the disputed land.

The memo, dated December 19, 2017, and drafted by Deputy Director of Surveys Sospeter Ohanya, alleged that several subdivisions had been carried out on the property without KDFCL's consent and without due process.

"The owner is always required to surrender the original title before any sub-title is issued, but it is strange that this was not the case in all transactions on LR11379/3," it says.

In 2018, the then MP for Embakasi West, George Theuri, petitioned Parliament on behalf of Mowlem residents over the irregular allocation of the disputed land. The MP alleged that the KDFCL had colluded with the NLC to take over squatter land in the Umoja II area. The Parliamentary Committee on Lands investigated the matter, produced a report and found that the land in question belonged to common memberships of the KDFCL, which had purchased the land in 1966.

Pursuant to this, the NLC issued a notice of cancellation of all previous surveys on the land in 2019.

In a letter seen by the Nation.Africa on February 19, 2019, NLC vice chairperson Abigael Mbagaya Mukolwe advised the director of surveys to cancel all surveys done without the consent of the owners and facilitate new surveys by the owners.

The land has since been re-surveyed and divided into seven blocks: Block 84, Block 107, Block 157, Block 163, Block 173, Block 215 and Block 242. Under these blocks, land ownership has taken on a new dimension since government departments - including the defunct Nairobi City Council, now the Nairobi County Government - hived off part of the land to build Umoja II under the sponsorship of the United States Agency for International Development.

According to Mr Mwangi, the Nairobi County Government has expressed interest in negotiating with KDFCL for compensation for the 145-acre plot. In addition, the Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital and government administrative blocks still stand on the land.

In the petition, which has dragged on for 12 years, KDFCL is seeking three prayers: that the High Court declare that the alleged compulsory acquisition of their land violated their fundamental right to protection against arbitrary deprivation of private property.

"We pray that the High Court declare that the compulsory acquisition of our land was unlawful, null and void from the outset. We also seek an order that all subsequent actions by the Commission of Lands in relation to our land after the purported acquisition, including the issuance of allotment letters, leases or titles to any third party other than KDFCL, be declared null and void. We demand the removal of all persons, institutions and companies occupying any part of our land without the express authority of KDFCL, failure to which we will be allowed to remove them at their own expense within 30 days," said Mr Mwangi.

The land is now occupied by people who bought the land from people who claim to be its owners - including senior military officers, senior judicial officers and senior civil servants in the national government.

Mr Mwangi has accused DCI officers of harassing KDFCL members. The KDFCL is asking the High Court to fast-track the 53-year-old case.

"Our fathers bought this land in 1966, legally. So many of them have died and the remaining members are looking for compensation," says Mr Muigai.