A battle over the management of a 24,400-acre ranch in Voi, Taita Taveta County, has escalated to the Court of Appeal.
More than 4,000 members of the Kishamba B. Group Ranch took their dispute to court after failing to get a favourable ruling in the Environment and Land Court.
Mr John Kivure and seven others have filed the case on behalf of 4,201 members. They accuse the management of illegally subdividing the land without consulting them.
But the land court issued a directive staying the execution of the ruling pending the determination of the appeal.
Mombasa land court Judge Naikuni Lucas told the petitioners that the status quo, in place for a year and a half, be maintained.
The petitioners are, however, required to deposit Sh1 million within 30 days to serve as security until the appeal is determined.
The petitioners have appealed against a land court ruling that could see them lose a portion of the property after the court held that they had no legal authority to bring the case against ranch managers.
They had accused the managers of what they termed illegal dealing with the property.
Through an affidavit by Mr Kuvure, the petitioners told the court that the ranch officials hold the property in trust for members under the Community Land Act and, therefore, any dealings with the land required the consent of the county government.
“The defendants are accountable to the members and with a duty to act in accordance with the law,” he said.
The management is alleged to have subdivided, leased, and mortgaged part of the property to third parties without consulting members.
They asked the court to preserve the property until the appellate court addresses their grievances, arguing that they want to protect the property from illegal alienation by ranch officials.
The petitioners told the court that the officials had purported to allocate, apportion or demarcate five acres of the property to be transferred to their advocates as payment of legal fees.
“They have made the decision without seeking or obtaining the pre-requisite authority or resolution from the community,” Mr Kuvure said.
Mr Benson Mlambo, who was the ranch chairman, opposes the suit, saying that the property does not fall under the legal purview of the Community Land Act as alleged by the petitioners.
He noted that ranch officials were likely to suffer irreparable loss and damage if the property is not subdivided and distributed to its registered members.
“I do not require the consent of the Taita Taveta county government to deal with the property,” he said
Mr Mlambo also told the court that ranch officials had acquired the vital letters of consent from the Land Control Board to carry out the subdivision or deal with the property in any manner they desired.
“Therefore, this was the right time to cause its subdivision and distribution of the individual title deeds of the group ranch land to its registered members,” he said
He also said that he was duty-bound to safeguard the interests of registered members and that issuing individual title deeds to members is the right thing to do, and not converting private property to community land.