State took our land 36 years ago, claim residents of landslide-prone areas

A photo showing landslide-prone Nithi valley in Ngongu village, Maara constituency in Tharaka-Nithi County. 

Residents of landslide-prone areas that border the Mt Kenya forest in Ngongu village, Maara constituency, still hope that the government will surrender land taken during the President Daniel Moi’s regime.

They claim they were pushed to the dangerous Nithi Valley in 1986 when the government established Nyayo Tea Zones as a buffer belt between the forest and locals.

Financially able residents bought land in the upper sides of Kiangondu and Mitheru after they were forced out of the areas, leaving the poor at the mercy of Mother Nature.

During heavy rainfall, the land develops gullies, compelling residents to seek refuge in safer places, with some having to camp at the Mitheru chief’s camp for weeks until the rains subside.

Huge gullies

The huge gullies sometimes cave in and the soil swept down by rains destroys properties including houses, crops and even livestock.

Mr Mutegi Kinegeni, 75, recalls how the Nyayo Tea Zones Development Corporation (NTZDC) used administrators and police officers to force them out of their homes and even demolished houses.

Ngondu village

Mr Mutegi Kinegeni, a resident of landslide-prone Ngongu village in Maara constituency Tharaka-Nithi County points at Nithi valley. Residents claim they were forcefully pushed out of their lands bordering Mt Kenya Forest  for the establishment of Nyayo Tea Zone 36 years ago. 
 

Photo credit: Alex Njeru I Nation Media Group

“The government was accusing us of encroaching on the forest, but that was not true. Instead of clearing the forest to establish the plantations, they pushed members of the public from their lands without compensation,” Mr Kinegeni said.

He claimed his extended family lost two acres and their houses were demolished, forcing them to settle in the dangerous valley.

Mr John Mutembei, 80, another resident, said he lost an acre to the Nyayo Tea Zone and his house was demolished.

His family asked the government to return the land but the matter was dismissed. He claimed government officials visited the village several times following landslides and recommended that people be moved to safer areas.

50 households

He said the late Jeremiah Nyaga, who was minister for Lands during President Moi reign, visited the area and recommended that about 50 households be allocated small portions of land on the flat Nyayo Tea Zone area but nothing was done.

Mzee Mutembei said that years later, Ms Martha Karua, when she was minister for Water, also visited the valley and recommended that locals be resettled but that did not happen.

Nyayo Tea Zone

A section of Nyayo Tea Zone plantation bordering landslide-prone Ngongu village in Maara constituency Tharaka-Nithi County. Residents claim they were forcefully pushed out of their lands bordering Mt Kenya Forest for the establishment of Nyayo Tea Zone 36 years ago. 

Photo credit: Alex Njeru I Nation Media Group

He said Ms Karua recommended that trees be planted in the valley, noting that besides risks to humans and livestock, clearing it for farming or homesteads exposes it to soil erosion and landslides.

“We appeal to President William Ruto to implement the recommendations because the reports of the two former ministers are still lying around in government offices,” Mr Mutembei said.

He said during the 1997/98 El Niño rains, there was a lot of damage and people were compelled to camp at the Mitheru chief’s camp for two months.

Tether babies

Resident Lucy Kageni said they are usually compelled to tether their crawling babies to prevent them falling into the valley.

She said that during El Niño rains, she lost three cows and her latrine collapsed in a landslide that narrowly missed the house she was sleeping in with her two children.

“Though many years have passed, we still urge the government to allocate us some lands for homesteads in the flat Nyayo Tea Zone plantation,” Ms Kageni said.

She noted that livestock accidentally fall into the valley rolling for almost two kilometres into the Nithi River.

Meanwhile, a group of Chuka community elders is still waiting for the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) to honour a recommendation by the National Land Commission (NLC) to surrender 10,000 acres of the Mt Kenya forest that was ‘forcefully taken by the colonial government’.

In 2019, in a gazette notice dated March 1, the NLC directed the KFS to give the land to the Atiriri Bururi Ma Chuka group to settle historical claims.

But the KFS dismissed the NLC as having no constitutional power to order the degazettement of government forest land.

The NLC also directed KFS to set aside 2,000 acres of the forest as a buffer zone between the forest and the group’s land.

24,000 acres

The 3,500 residents went to court in 2003 to claim 24,000 acres, the section between the first and second baseline of the Chuka forest that covers 12km from the gazetted boundary inward.

The elders call the part of the forest that they claim as “Magundu Ma Chuka”, meaning “fallow farmland” in the local dialect.

Welcome!

You're all set to enjoy unlimited Prime content.