Two dead after protests rock Maai Mahiu town

Running battles between police and sand harvesters in Maai Mahiu

Transport along the Nairobi-Naivasha and Nairobi-Narok highways was paralysed for nearly five hours on Tuesday after sand harvesters staged protests against Kedong Ranch owners when they doubled sand harvesting fees from Sh1,000 to Sh2,000 per lorry. 

The demos saw two people killed and several injured. 

"We have been suffering because of hiked quarry fees for sand harvesting. Police have been leading this extortion," a local resident, John Simba, claimed. 

Loaders usually pay the private landowners before they are allowed to scoop sand from the ranch and load the commodity into lorries for transport to Nairobi, Nakuru, Narok and other major towns. 

But on Monday, the harvesters woke up to new rates, prompting the protests. 

Rift Valley Regional Coordinator George Natembeya said the youth erected at least 20 roadblocks and started demanding money from motorists in order to allow them through. 

“They have extorted motorists and some of them paid up to Sh20,000 because the protesters in each of these road blocks were demanding up to Sh1,000,” he said. 

Rift Valley Reginal Police Commander, Marcus Ocholla, said he had to dispatch officers from the General Service Unit, the Anti Stock Theft Unit and others to restore order since the situation was getting out of hand. As a result, he said at least 15 youth were arrested and are in police custody.

“The protesters appeared in large numbers and the officers there had to be given reinforcement,” Mr Ocholla said.

He denied reports that the youth had overpowered police officers after a video circulating online appears to show a group of youth joy riding on a police vehicle.

“The police officer who was driving the vehicle that was filmed carrying tens of protesting youth and shared on social media had to drive the vehicle to the police station because the youth had refused to disembark,” Mr Ocholla explained to the Nation

Mr Natembeya believes that the youth who were protesting had been ferried from other towns by unknown people, adding that that the matter was still being investigated. 

Uneasy calm

However, normalcy has returned to the town after a day of running battles between police and sand harvesters.

A spot check by the Nation on Tuesday evening revealed an uneasy calm in the transit town amid heavy police presence.

Heavy presents of police officers at Maai Mahiu town on November 10, 2020 after a day of running battles between police and sand harvesters.

Photo credit: Cheboite Kigen | Nation Media Group
Photo credit: Cheboite Kigen | Nation Media Group

Protestors said that a group of individuals normally sit by the gate to collect Sh1,000 each time they want to collect sand.

In response the ranch's management said:  “With reference to the current situation going on in Suswa and the demonstrations we have witnessed on the Maai Mahiu-Suswa road, Kedong Ranch Ltd is the owner of the land that the illegal sand harvesting has been taking place - we believe that by law we have every right to protect our property.

"With regard to the resident Kitet Sossion community, Kedong Ranch Ltd gifted them 4,000 acres on which to settle on, furthermore Kedong Ranch Ltd gifted the Government of Kenya 1,000 acres for the industrial park .

"Kedong Ranch Ltd will continue to protect its property from any outside invaders."

Controversial ranch

Kedong Ranch has for years been the centre of chaos in the area. This stems from several issues including land ownership, sand harvesting and planned fencing by the government. 

The 76,000-acre parcel in Naivasha spans Narok East constituency on the west and Kajiado West constituency on the east. The Maai Mahiu-Narok road passes across the land.

Just last week, locals protested fencing of part of the ranch that the government intends to use as a dry port to be used by Kenya and Uganda.

The youth, armed with shovels, removed sections of fences erected around the land that is also at the centre of an ownership row between the Maasai community and some prominent individuals. 

Also among the individuals owners exists an ownership row. Official documents show that Kedong Ranch is owned by different people and organisations.

At least 3,000 local households depend on sand harvesting activities at the ranch. 

“They have been attempting to fence the entire ranch and keep us off the land. This is where we draw our livelihood. How will we survive?" wondered local resident Shardrack Karey. 

A member of the civil society, George Narok, claims the ranch has used several tactics, including digging huge trenches around it, to keep off the harvesters. 

“The trenches have made it impossible for those who were already inside the ranch to get out. Those who are outside also cannot get in despite some of them having their property in houses they had settled in,” he said.