An attempt by disgruntled squatters involved in a land dispute with the late former powerful politician Mark Too to subdivide a 25,000-acre tract in Eldoret was thwarted by police on Thursday.
The quest by the Sirikwa squatters group to regain the land hit a snag after police officers arrived and stopped them. The land is adjacent to Eldoret International Airport.
On Thursday, the squatters and a team of surveyors visited the land to survey and divide it among the group’s 1,000 members. They claimed they had won an ownership case and obtained a court order sanctioning the subdivision.
But armed police stormed the land in two pickup trucks and arrested the surveyors on the grounds that they wanted to give them protection and that security forces had not been notified.
“We have learnt on social media that you are subdividing the land while being guarded by people armed with pangas,” said a police officer in civilian clothes as he led the surveyors into the police vehicles.
“The police are not aware of the subdivision exercise and that is why we have come here to give you protection as we go to the Langas Police Station and plan an orderly subdivision. But the work has to stop first’”
The squatters attempted to bar police from taking away the surveyors into their vehicles, but the security officers would hear none of it, summoning the squatters to meet them at the police station.
Uasin Gishu County Police Commander Ayub Gitonga dismissed the squatters’ claims that they were to be provided with security as they subdivided the land.
“The purported court order does not indicate anywhere to the effect that they provide security for the survey. We will not allow the survey to be carried out on the land because that is illegal and anybody found on the land will be deemed trespassers,” Mr Gitonga said.
But the squatters, who were relying on a court ruling issued by Justice Anthony Ombwayo directing that they be issued with valid title deeds after being given the land, accused police of being partisan.
The late Too’s family has appealed the ruling.
Sirikwa squatters secretary William Choge told the Nation police were malicious in their actions because they had been served with court orders directing them to provide security during the subdivision work.
“The court awarded us the land and we had even served orders to the Kiambaa and Langas police stations and they were to come and provide security. But they came and instead of executing the order, they stopped the subdivision and arrested the surveyors,” Mr Choge said.
“It is very callous for the police to disrupt the work and we are appealing to the government to help us because we have suffered for decades battling for our land that we inherited from our late fathers.”
Ms Eusila Kogei, another squatter, said they came eager to get the subdivision done because they knew they would be given at least five acres each.
“We have been disrupted by the police but we are not moved. This is our land and we will protect it until we subdivide it because the court clearly stated we own the land,” she said.
The squatters were previously farmhands and labourers on the farm working for a British multinational that once grew wattle trees on the land. The court had agreed with them that the property belonged to their forefathers before they were kicked out to give way for a plantation.
They went to court in 2007 and sued various government departments, Lonrho Agribusiness East Africa Company, the late Too, Mr David Korir and others for grabbing their land.
Justice Ombwayo ruled that the squatters be allocated the land.
“The petitioners have a legitimate expectation to be registered as owners and need to be allocated the parcels of land because the transaction by the respondents was unlawful,” he ruled.
“The respondents need to abide by the initial decrees and documents from relevant government authorities and issue title deeds to the applicants.”
The judge also directed that the late Too's family retain not less than 67 acres from the disputed 25,000. The land also hosts public utilities including Eldoret International Airport, Moi University, several primary and secondary schools, public roads and others.
The squatters argued the respondents conspired to hive off the land in 12 parcels with different acreages that they claimed were allocated to them by the late President Daniel Moi in 1998 through a presidential decree.
They cited Article 165 (4) of the Constitution, reiterating that the matter wasn't an ordinary land dispute but "violated basic human rights of access to land", adding that the way the government land was converted to private property without the approval of relevant State institutions raised substantial questions of law.
A letter dated July 17, 2007 from the commissioner of lands to the Attorney-General, which was presented in court by the squatters, stated that the allocation of the 25,000 acres to the Sirikwa squatters still stood.
The late Too, through his firm Lonrho Agribusiness, is reported to have sold several parcels of the plantation that touches the Nairobi and Kapsabet roads.
He had told the court that the land was initially leasehold for 900 years and was granted to the plantation company, where he was chairman.
Upon the winding up of the firm in 2000, he surrendered the land in exchange for the issuing of a freehold title, claiming that he had bought the entire parcel.