Nairobi slum dwellers plan to sue firms over land

Residents of Mukuru Kwa Ruben slums in Nairobi’s Embakasi area go about their business last month. Photo/STEPHEN MUDIARI

What you need to know:

  • Documents in our possession indicate that Mr Jirongo has a 99-year lease on the land as from 1990 through Kuza Farms and Allied Ltd, one of his business companies.
  • According to the group’s research, nearly 70 per cent of all houses in Nairobi comprise of single 10 x 10 shacks made of wood, mud, tin, galvanised sheets or wattle.

A presidential aspirant is among dozens of influential politicians and businessmen who own land on which slums in parts of Nairobi sit.

The slum dwellers are going to court this week to lay claim to the land on which they have lived for years citing public interest.

Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, an umbrella group championing the rights of the slum dwellers, starts its landmark court action on Wednesday.

In what promises to be an epic judicial battle between the title holders and the slum dwellers, the group will also be claiming that the titles to these plots are no longer valid.

They will argue that the legal owners have failed to use the land for the purposes it was allocated.

In Mukuru Kwa Njenga alone, some 51,000 families composed of more than 260,000 people and occupying 161 acres are under threat of eviction by the owners of the land.

Among those to be sued is presidential aspirant and Lugari MP Cyrus Jirongo who, through Kuza Farms Ltd, owns 2.5 acres at Mukuru Kwa Reuben, home to some 3,000 slum families.

Some of the well-known local companies also set to be sued by the activists include Orbit Chemical Industries, Nash Motors, Affiliated Business Contacts Ltd and Embakasi Developers.

Unplanned settlements

These companies represent just a tip of the individuals and corporations who hold titles to land on which thousands of people in Embakassi area, mainly the sprawling Mukuru slums, live.

Some of the companies the Nation talked to maintained that they were acquired their titles legally. They claim they too are innocent victims of rapid, unplanned urbanisation and will be seeking the courts to intervene on their behalf.

“If you are looking for a scandal, then there is none,” said Mr Jirongo. “I acquired the land legally and I have everything to prove it. If anything, I should be the one suing for loss of income since I have not been able to develop my land.”

Documents in our possession indicate that Mr Jirongo has a 99-year lease on the land as from 1990 through Kuza Farms and Allied Ltd, one of his business companies.

The company was incorporated in 1985 and the registered directors and shareholders are Shakhalaga Khwa Jirongo and his three wives Christine Nyokabi Jirongo, Anne Kanini Jirongo and Anne Lannoi Jirongo.

The land has a nursery and primary school as well as a medical centre established by the Sisters of Mercy of Ireland and currently under the care of the Christian Brothers of Australia. It also has a police post.

However, Mr Jirongo maintained that the squatters are interlopers who came much later after he had been allocated the land, a claim disputed by Muungano Wa Wanavijiji who argue the plot was already inhabited.

In 1993, the land — alongside several other parcels — was charged to Post Bank as collateral worth Sh1.6 billion, when the government froze Mr Jirongo’s business assets over a contract dispute. In 2007, Kuza Farms sought to have the squatters evicted.

Through Wandabwa Advocates, Kuza Farms requested Embakasi district commissioner kick out the “trespassers.”

Alternatively, the company offered the tenants the option of buying the plot. In 2009, the tenants placed an offer Sh5 million which was rejected by Kuza Farms as being too low.

The matter of the plot’s ownership and legal status came up in Parliament in April when Gichugu MP Martha Karua sought to know whether it had been allocated lawfully.

Lands assistant minister Gonzi Rai said he had directed that the title of the land be revoked “in public interest” and a new one be granted although he declined to state its legal status.

Mr Jirongo revealed that the city council had already taken charge of the plot due to the public amenities on it. “I am awaiting payment, but they have been quiet on it,” he said without stating how much compensation he was asking for.

Some of the lands on which the slums sit seem small in size, but statistically they hold big populations. According to Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, recreational spaces in Nairobi occupy bigger total land mass than the slums.

According to the group’s research, nearly 70 per cent of all houses in Nairobi comprise of single 10 x 10 shacks made of wood, mud, tin, galvanised sheets or wattle.

Mr Ashok Chandaria, the director of Orbit Chemicals Ltd, is expected to defend his company’s ownership of 247 acres in Embakasi, which is now home to thousands of slum dwellers.

“I have done everything possible to get them out and I am only praying for a miracle,” he told the Nation. “Nowadays I only go to the temple to pray for them to leave.”

The company is by far the biggest owner of the land that has been taken over by slum dwellers in Imara Daima area. He said he bought the land in 1987 and the squatters only invaded it much later.

In 2006, he sued the government for Sh800 million for stopping the sale of the land. The company claimed that its property rights were denied through a caveat imposed by the registrar of titles for 12 years until January 2000.

The company won the case but Mr Chandaria said they are yet to be paid. His company argued it would have been making Sh3.4 million per month if it had been allowed to operate on it. He said the company intended to build a factory “that would have employed up to 6,000 people.”

Documents seen by the Nation indicate that the company, through an intermediary called Geoner Systems Ltd, is currently selling part of the land to individuals although Mr Chandaria denied knowledge of this.

When we placed a call to Geoner, a salesperson informed us that the company was selling a 70x80 plot for Sh2 million for one near the road and Sh1.2 million for one further away.

The account for the transaction is in Chase Bank and the law firm handling the transactions is Anjarwalla and Khana Advocates. Mr Chandaria acknowledged that the law firm acts for his company but denied knowledge of Geoner Systems.

Biggest beneficiaries

According to UN Habitat, 57 per cent of all structures in slums throughout the world are either owned by ministers, civil servants, government officials or politically connected businessmen who are the biggest beneficiaries of the continued existence of slums.

According to research done by the Muungano Wa Wanavijiji, 10 per cent of slums are located on uncontested public land, 40 per cent on riparian and utility reserves while 50 per cent sit on private lands that were previously public property.

Slum land in Nairobi is claimed by three distinct groups: the slum lords, the registered title holders and the slum dwellers who comprise 92 per cent of all claimants.

Mr Korir Singoei, the activists’ lawyer, said the title holders — especially in Mukuru slums which was once government land — continue to own these lands in contravention of the law containing the conditions by which they were given.

Most of these lands were given to applicants to set up inoffensive light industries. These are industries with low emissions and little noise pollution since they are established near residential areas.

According to Mr Singoei, one of the special conditions which the applicants have flouted is that requiring them to develop the land within 24 months of being granted the title as stipulated in the Limitations of Actions Acts, Cap 22.

The Act reads: “The Grantee shall within six calendar months of the actual registration of the Grant submit in triplicate to the local Authority and the Commissioner of Lands plans (including black plans showing the positions of the buildings and a system of drainage for disposing of sewage surface and sullage water) drawings elevations and specifications of buildings the Grantee proposes to erect on the land and shall within 24 months of the actual registration of the Grant complete the erection of such buildings and the construction of the drainage system in conformity with such plans…”

By virtue of the fact that the title owners of these lands never developed them within the stipulated period, Mr Singoei argues that the plots ought to unconditionally revert to the government.

“We are going to argue that these title holders acquired these lands fraudulently by misrepresenting their intentions. Instead of building industries they used their titles to acquire personal loans and mortgages against public interest,” he said.

However, if the owners insist that they are private lands, as all those we interviewed argued, then he reckons that the law of adverse possession can be brought to bear against them. Adverse possession is the occupation of the land of another person against his wish and in opposition to his title.

Where such possession continues without interruption of an eviction for more than 12 years, then the squatter becomes legally entitled to the land. However, this law does not apply to private and not government land.

After attempting in vain to evict slum dwellers on his company’s land for more than a decade now, Mr Manesh Patel, the chief executive officer of Laboratory and Allied Company has opted for a rather unexpected solution.

Since 1993, the Mombasa Road-based company has owned a 2.7-acre piece of land along Lunga Lunga Road currently inhabited by about 3,500 people, according to Muungano Wa Wanavijiji.

Tired of paying rates and rents for a piece of land his company has little hope of ever using, he said he has opted to hand it back to the government. “Let some good come out of all these frustrations I have gone through,” he said.
Muungano Wa Wanavijiji praised the move, saying it was tentative but a crucial step in addressing tussles over ownership of slum land.

Release land

“By releasing the land, Laboratory and Allied has made the most tangible contribution towards secure socio-spacial justice and citizenship on one hand and improved living conditions for slum dwellers on the other,” read a statement by Muungano.

For relinquishing the land, Lab & Allied becomes the first recipient of the Kenya Jubilee Gold Dust Award, an award given by Muungano Wa Wanavijiji seeking to recognise private corporations that provide security of tenure to city slum dwellers. 

Another company with a sizeable piece of land occupied by slum dwellers is Embakasi Developers Ltd whose shareholders are Rasikhbahi Patel and Johnson Samuel Vasant.

The company owns several steel fabrication and construction companies in Nairobi as well as beach properties at the Coast. It also owns a 40-acre plot in Mukuru Kwa Njenga slums. The land is occupied by some 12,720 families or roughly 63,000 people, according to Muungango Wa Wanavijiji.

In February, three people were killed in a failed attempt to kick out the dwellers who have since lodged a case in court against further evictions.

Also agonising what to do with the slum dwellers is Nash Motors, whose directors are Abdulkarim Chatur Popat and Adil Abdulkarim Popat. The company owns a 2.5-acre plot in Mukuru Kwa Ruben.

The company was granted the plot in 1983. It has been trying, albeit unsuccessfully, to kick out the squatters. In April it offered to sell them the plot at Sh16 million.

Jandu Investments (Kenya) Limited, whose directors are Arvind Ramji Devani and Nilesh Arvind Devani, own a 3.3 acres plot in Lunga Lunga which has been partially encroached by squatters.