Patients in limbo as fight for Nakuru War Memorial Hospital rages

Nakuru County askaris restrict patients from accessing the War Memorial Hospital on January 22, 2024. 


For over 100 years, the Nakuru War Memorial Hospital has sat unobtrusively on its 25-acre plot, ensconced, in a general sense, between State House and the former Rift Valley Provincial General Hospital, now a Level Five facility.

Established in 1921 in honour of those who died during World War One, the lease for its land, referred to as Nakuru Municipality Block 11/107 and part of which includes an area where the presidential helicopter lands, was granted on May 1, 1922 to last 99 years till April 2021, upon which it would be renewed.

And so, on a seemingly routine procedure, the hospital's management successfully secured a lease extension for another 50 years.

That renewal, ostensibly done using forged documents, is now the subject of a court case, with the Nakuru County Government, which sought to have the property registered under its name to allow for the expansion of the Nakuru Level Five Hospital Annex, forcefully taking over and transferring patients in a surprise dawn raid on Tuesday.

This was done despite a court order issued on October 30 last year for the status quo to hold, and which was extended again on Thursday.

The order that was issued by Justice Milicent Odeny restrains the county government from engaging in any activities on the property or interfering with the operations of the Nakuru War Memorial Hospital pending hearing and determination of the case.

The county government has stated in its court papers that it has never approved the extension of the Nakuru War Memorial Hospital lease. Two directors of the hospital have been charged with 12 counts relating to forgery of land documents.

The two — Simon Mwangi Watene and Rodger Joslyn — were charged alongside Mr Kipkenmboi Marindich, Mr Peter Nzuki Mutawa, and Mr Stephen Kihenjo Mwaura.

Mr Mutawa and Mr Mwaura work at the Ministry of Lands as deputy director land administrator and assistant director land administrator respectively.

According to the charge sheet, the offence was committed on April 7, 2021 at the Ministry of Lands’ Ardhi House headquarters in Nairobi. The five accused persons have denied the charges.

The legal dispute came to a head last week when county government officials, accompanied by the police, attempted a forceful takeover of the hospital premises on Monday, the second time they had done so in the past four months. Chaos ensued as patients were hastily evacuated while medical personnel locked out of the premises.

The hospital, through its lawyers, have denied any wrongdoing, asserting that the lease renewal process was conducted transparently and within the confines of the law.

As investigations into the alleged forgery unfolded, the local community found itself caught in the middle. Residents, who had for long relied on the hospital for treatment, expressed concern about the potential disruption to services while others demanded a thorough investigation into the legality of the hospital's claim over the land.

In the documents filed in court on November 20 last year, the devolved unit argued that the land reverted to government ownership after the lease period given to the hospital expired in 2021.

County Secretary Samuel Mwaura said in a sworn affidavits that the hospital was initially run by a trust comprising nine directors.

Among them were the provincial commissioner and provincial medical officer who were to safeguard the interests of the public.He said the two government officials alongside two other directors were kicked out under unclear circumstances, with the hospital retaining the current five.

Mr Mwaura added that the hospital’s management applied for renewal and extension of the lease on January 9, 2020 but was delayed following a dispute between War Memorial and Nakuru Level Five Hospital Annex.

On March 15, 2022, Mr Mwaura says he wrote a letter to the National Land Commission requesting that the land be given to the public hospital “to develop specialised medical services” .

The director of Land and Physical Planning subesequently stopped further development activities on the property, including the planned construction of an incinerator.

The court further heard that the county government successfully petitioned the National Land Commission to cancel the new lease on grounds that the directors of War Memorial had used forged approval plans and payment receipts while applying for its renewal.

The devolved unit has cited as evidence a May 19, 2023 gazette notice revoking the extended lease issued to the hospital due to procedural irregularities.

War Memorial, on its part, has accused the county government of engaging in an illegality by forcibly taking over the management of a private facility.

Through affidavits sworn by Dr Mwangi, the hospital claims it legally renewed the lease for another 50 years, effective March 1, 2021. Dr Mwangi stated that the Nakuru Level Five Hospital Annex was established in a building owned by War Memorial in the 1970s following a directive by President Jommo Kenyatta.

He claimed the county government colluded with Lands officials to revoke the new lease.

The dispute has now turned political, with local leaders siding with either War Memorial or the county government.

Senator Tabitha Karanja last week called for the impeachment of Governor Susan Kihika, accusing her of disregarding court orders. Speaking to journalists in Naivasha, Ms Karanja called on members of the county assembly to oust the governor.

A section of the ward representatives have, however, dismissed the call. Assembly Majority Leader Wesley Langat faulted the senator for purporting to instruct MCAs on such a sensitive matter in a public forum, which went against the standing orders.

“The senator has never visited this assembly. But if she is serious about the impeachment motion, the law gives her the freedom to visit and address the county assembly for us to debate. Let her not dictate to us what to do because we have our roles defined in the law,” said Mr Langat.

But, as the case drags on, the fate of the Nakuru War Memorial Hospital remains in limbo. The once-trusted institution is grappling with a crisis that threatens its existence as well as the well-being of a community it has faithfully served for generations.