No man’s land: ‘Powerful’ gangs of grabbers terrorise Nairobi, Machakos plot owners
Mr John Makenzi, retired after a teaching career spanning 40 years, including as principal of Kapsabet Boys and Lenana high schools, is troubled that the government won’t come to his aid.
Gangs of land grabbers have kept him out of his five-acre land in Kamulu, Nairobi County, and despite filing complaints with the police, they continue to threaten him and laugh off his efforts to report them to the authorities.
“Why is it so hard for the government to just step up, do the due diligence and ensure that the real owners get their land back?” Mr Makenzi asked, lamenting that the land has been divided by the gang, which is now selling the plots to unsuspecting Kenyans.
He is not alone. Prominent personalities, including current and former judges, are among landowners about to lose multibillion-shilling properties on the border of Nairobi and Machakos counties to land theft cartels.
The victims are fighting with faceless individuals. However, a relative of a governor is said to be involved. The gang has fenced Mr Makenzi’s five acres and, whenever he tries to access the land, the grabbers disappear.
It has become near impossible to develop his property.
“They have in the past even threatened me through phone messages and calls. I have reported to Kamulu Police Station and after I make the reports, they call and tell me to stop wasting my time,” said the retired teacher.
Retired judge Tom Mbaluto is in the same predicament. In spite of suing the grabbers and winning all the cases, he cannot set foot on his property. Police officers in the area have failed to effect court orders and the gangs continue terrorising property owners, even bringing down buildings.
“I have won every case against the grabbers. After an order is issued, they disappear, but after some time, different companies and faces emerge and go on claiming ownership,” he said.
Mr Sam Kioko, a former chief executive of Daima Bank, knows the pain of owning property that one is unable to enjoy.
“We are Kenyans who pay taxes and we need protection from such people, it is very important that they help us get back our land,” he said.
Nation understands retired Chief Justice David Maraga is yet another victim. But when contacted yesterday, Mr Maraga neither responded to messages nor answered calls.
Others fighting to reclaim their property are a current principal secretary, ex-presidential candidate Peter Kenneth, former Nyeri Senator Ephraim Maina, and businessman Jimnah Mbaru, among others.
The land in question is located in Mavoko and Kamulu and the dispute has been raging for 10 years. Official records show the vast land was bought from the initial owners by cooperative societies, who sold it to their members.
It was subdivided into four blocks namely; Kamulu, Drumvale, Ngalani and Lukenya.
The companies have the list of all the members who are now fighting to take ownership of their land from the cartels.
According to documents, Kamulu Housing has 2,034 hectares, Drumvale (5,800 hectares), Ngalani (10,000 hectares) and Lukenya (4,600 hectares).
Initially, Drumvale Farmers’ Cooperative Society Ltd had been registered as proprietor of parcels with registration numbers 8529/1, 7283/1 and 3673.
“In 1993, there was a proposal by Drumvale Farmers’ Cooperative Society Ltd to consolidate and subdivide the properties. The proposals for consolidation and subdivision were approved in 1994. The approval letter indicated that agricultural properties were to be issued with freehold titles while commercial properties were to be issued with leasehold titles,” court documents say.
Just like in the Drumvale case, Kamulu and Lukenya were also bought by cooperative societies, while Ngalani was bought by the Agricultural Farmers Society.
On Friday, lawyers based in Machakos County held demonstrations against the land office, saying, it had been taken over by cartels. The lawyers demanded that the office be devolved especially to Kamulu and Mavoko in order to deal with the problem.
Only a few landowners have managed to develop their properties; one of them is a senior police officer working at police headquarters in Vigilance House, Nairobi. His home is under tight security and the gang seems to have given up on him and they no longer approach his property.
However, it has emerged that some of the people accused of protecting the land grabbers are senior police officers. So daring was one police commander that he oversaw the selling of part of the land to a company that has its headquarters in Qatar. The details of the incident are in briefs prepared by the National Intelligence Service seen by Nation.
When Nation visited the land, little was going on, but people in the area said that once a week, a group of sellers usually brings buyers to inspect the property and buy plots. The grabbers are feared; whenever they approach a construction site, the workers run for their lives.
Reports on how they have brought down buildings and perimeter walls have been made in various police stations in Kamulu and Lukenya in Mavoko in Machakos County, but little has been done.
So organised and feared are the gangs that in Mavoko Town Block 12, a police post was set up after the gangs overpowered the owners and those who had bought land there, leading to skirmishes.
Last November, members of the Mavoko Town Block 12, penned a letter to Interior Cabinet Secretary Kithure Kindiki, complaining their land had been invaded.
In the letter seen by Nation, they said that they were the legal owners of the property located on Kang’undo Road.
“Since the year 2013, various groups have been encroaching on our land with full knowledge of the county security agencies. In 2016, a group by the name of Balozzy Welfare group went to court to stop the police/Administration Police from interfering with their operations. We joined the matter as interested parties. The matter was ruled in our favour under Nairobi misc. application no.255 of 2016 confirming Mavoko Town Block 12 belongs to our members. That ruling has never been challenged/appealed,” the letter says.
According to the letter, those who had been barred by the court from transacting any business on the land were doing so as they threatened the owners.
Cries for help
They requested Prof Kindiki to intervene and ensure that the law and court orders are followed. Kaveye Police Post in Lukenya, Machakos County, which was put up due to the skirmishes, has no officers.
Three kilometres from the police post is another piece of land that workers said was 40 acres. The owners had planned to build homes there but were shocked when they were asked to leave.
The land now has a wall around it and two structures have been built on the furthest ends.
Court documents in our possession show that a ruling was made by Justice George Odunga, in which those claiming the property were warned from developing or selling the land.
Some of the members of the Mavoko Block 12 team, which has over 7,000 members, spoke to Nation in confidence due to the sensitivity of the matter.
“I have lived here for years but they keep on threatening me and demanding that I leave this place with immediate effect. Surely, people just came with no notice and they want me out of here. How is that even possible?” asked one of the members, adding that the ruling made by Justice Odunga has never been respected.
Another victim said police officers only rush there when there are serious differences between the two groups leading to clashes.
A search on the Kenya Law website, where data of various cases are kept digitally, shows that Mavoko Block 12 has a total of 1,630 cases filed in different courts in Nairobi and Machakos counties. Nation is in possession of various police reports that have been filed in relation to the land, but little has been done to contain the situation.
For instance, on September 17, 2022, Ms Rosemary Kaloki reported at Muungano Police Station that she attempted to access a piece of land she had bought but was blocked from doing so by a gang that claimed ownership.
“They accosted and threatened me when I tried to access my land. I was in the company of two police officers from Mbili station. The gang has set up base on land next to mine, making it impossible for one to pass. They told me not to go there because the land belonged to them,” Ms Kaloki said in a statement.
The incident caught the attention of the Officer Commanding Station, who accompanied Ms Kaloki and another complainant only identified as Mr Maina, to the ground with the aim of putting up beacons. Ms Kaloki said Mr Maina managed to put up the beacons on his land, but things were different for her.
“When we arrived at my parcel we found a huge number of goons who did not even fear the presence of the police. They were rough, banging the police vehicle as they asked what we were doing there,” she said. She and the police officers beat a hasty retreat. Next to Mavoko Block 12 is the Ngalani Block five, where the gangs operate in broad daylight and it is very difficult for one to access.