Residents of Chala in Taveta, Taita Taveta county are up in arms over what they claim is an attempt by a private developer to grab over 1, 000 acres of a prime land set aside for conservation purposes.
The residents said the investor has already erected beacons on the land, which was reserved under Chala Conservation Area, to indicate that the land adjacent to Lake Chala is his private property.
Although the government has moved in to quell the rising tension among the locals, the residents want lands officials to visit the area and disclose the status of the land.
Speaking to nation.africa, the residents led by Chala Imbaria Beach Management Unit's (BMU) chairperson Julius Nyaki, said livelihoods of over 3,000 locals are set to be affected if the land is taken away from them.
Mr Nyaki cited that the residents eke a living from some of the activities including fishing, bee keeping, tree conservation and planting, which are done within the land that was set aside in 2016 for conservation purposes.
The area was set aside under the Chala-Njukini administration section after residents found the need to conserve the area to benefit the whole community.
"We depend on the lake for our livelihoods. We have a cage fishing project, and we are also working to increase crabs in the lake. We also have beehives and a tree nursery within the area, so we don't know how someone claims that this land is private," he said.
The BMU has 50 members who recently received Sh2 million from the county government to boost their venture through the cage fishing.
The lake is also a tourist attraction with a spectacular breath-taking views. Although the road is narrow and rough, a group of residents are always available to take visitors on a tour around the lake. Chala is an international crater lake that straddles the border between Kenya and the Republic of Tanzania.
Another member, Peter Goi claim the investor had bought 18.4 hectares of land adjacent to the conservation. The land belonged to a local who had put up a hotel on the Chala hill. The hotel collapsed decades ago but investors have been eying to revive it due to the tourism potential it holds.
"There are rumours that after buying the land where the hotel is located the investor then extended the boundary inside the community land. We don't know whether it was done deliberately or not," he said.
County executive for lands Mwandawiro Mghanga said those involved in the grabbing are well-connected individuals who are working to illegally convert the land into private property.
He said they held a meeting with the community conservation group and agreed to have the land under the county government to preserve the important asset which carries a historical significance to locals.
"The lake and its surroundings carry a significant history for locals. There is no way we will allow it to be privatised by an individual," he said.
He said the residents have been mandated to preserve the area to ensure that no development is undertaken to interfere with the nature of the lake and its surrounding environment.
Taita Taveta County Land Management coordinator Stephen Ngugi did not comment on the matter. He said he was engaged in other matters and promised to give his statement later.