Governor Natembeya takes on Ruto allies in fallout over Kitale evictions

George Natembeya

Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya addresses the public at St Andrews Kaggwa Catholic Church in Kwanza Constituency on Sunday.  

Photo credit: Jared Nyataya | Nation Media Group

Last month's order by President William Ruto for the eviction of illegal settlers on the Kitale prison land in Trans Nzoia County has sparked a fresh political storm.

Trans Nzoia governor George Natembeya, who is keen on seeing the 2,700-acre piece of land reclaimed, is on a collision course with a section of Kenya Kwanza leaders who have opposed the impending evictions. They have accused Mr Natembeya of hatching the plan.

The matter has turned into a supremacy battle between Mr Natembeya and National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula, with the latter declaring that no one will be evicted.

On January 16, President Ruto, while on a visit to Trans Nzoia County, ordered illegal occupants of the land to leave or be forcefully evicted.

Addressing residents of Kitale, President Ruto gave an ultimatum to the people who had illegally acquired the prison’s land to surrender the property to the government.

His directive came amid a flurry of demolitions affecting several parts of the country, including Mavoko Sub-county in Machakos County and Kakamega, with the government declaring that the repossession of grabbed public land was to pave way for the implementation of affordable housing projects.

Amid growing tensions last Saturday, Mr Wetang’ula visited Trans Nzoia and met with a group of farmers over the impending evictions, days after the government moved to erect beacons on the land.

Mr Wetangula promised locals that he would use his position to ensure genuine owners are not evicted from their land.

“The government does things in an organised way and with civility because its work is to protect its people,” he said.

The Speaker, who received a petition from over 3,000 households in the area, said he would engage the President on the matter to ensure locals are not evicted from the land.

“I am here to listen to you. The President knows that I am here. I will ensure our people do not suffer because owning land is not a crime,” said the National Assembly Speaker, who was accompanied by Senator Allan Chesang and Endebess MP Dr Robert Pukose. On Sunday, Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua witnessed the vicious politics around the eviction plans first-hand when a visibly angry Natembeya told off Kenya Kwanza leaders for allegedly associating him with the initiative.

Mr Natembeya said the eviction came after a presidential order and was a national government issue. He told the Kenya Kwanza leaders attacking him to stop.

“I want to tell Kenya Kwanza leaders to leave me alone. Why are you going round claiming that I advised the President to evict people? I am not an advisor of the Head of State,” said the first-term governor who was elected on a Democratic Action Party Kenya (DAP-K) ticket. DAP-K is affiliated to the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party.

Mr Natembeya denied any involvement in the dispute and cautioned Kenya Kwanza leaders led by Trans Nzoia Senator Allan Chesang against “spreading baseless propaganda.”

“I do not stand to gain from this land but I have said that we need affordable housing units in our town. The President launched the project and ordered people to surrender land for it," stated the governor.

He wondered why Mr Wetang’ula went to meet wealthy businesspeople in Trans Nzoia, who are said to be among those facing evictions.

However, Mr Wetang’ula who was also present during Mr Gachagua’s Sunday visit, steered clear of land politics, asking all elected leaders to work together for the benefit of Trans Nzoia residents.

Mr Gachagua said the government will take personal responsibility for its decision, as he urged Mr Natembeya to support the ruling administration.