It started with the shocking invasion of former President Uhuru Kenyatta’s family-owned Northlands City in Ruiru, Kiambu County, by hired goons at the height of anti-government protests.
Two weeks later, security agents in three counties are grappling with a worrying trend of copycat raids, with illegal encroachment on private property in Nakuru, Bomet and Kilifi over the past few days raising eyebrows.
Yesterday, lawyer and political commentator Steve Biko expressed concern, terming the trend dangerous.
“Leaders and other stakeholders should come out and help reverse the trend to avoid chaos. We must, by all means, protect the sanctity of private property in the country,” said Mr Biko.
According to security officers, political incitement is believed to be behind some of the invasions.
In Kilifi, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) is investigating some politicians for allegedly inciting the public to invade private property.
In Bomet, days after the National Land Commission (NLC) handed a major win to three counties over a push to resurvey land leased to multinational tea companies, a group of angry youths invaded a farm belonging to James Finlay Tea Company and illegally harvested tea, leading to an ugly confrontation with the police.
The intruders stormed Chemasingi tea estate in Konoin constituency on Monday evening.
Apart from Ekattera (formerly Unilever) and James Finlay, the other companies operating in the region are George Williamson, Mau Tea, Sotik Tea Highlands, Sasini and Eastern Produce. They have all been affected by the NLC verdict.
The youths pelted police officers on patrol with stones, injuring the Kimulot Police Station commander and two of his officers. They were rushed to the nearby Chebitet Dispensary for treatment.
When reinforcements arrived at the scene, they found huge barricades mounted with boulders across the road at Chebaibai village between the Kipsigis Highlands Cooperative Society estate and the James Finlay property.
“When they noticed police approaching, they fled, regrouped in large numbers and engaged the security officers in violent confrontations,” a senior police officer who did not want to be named told the Nation.
In October last year, youths invaded Ekaterra Tea Company and torched 10 tea plucking machines in a bid to push the companies to revert to manual picking and save thousands of jobs.
Last week, NLC gave a major lifeline to Kericho, Bomet and Nandi counties in their push to resurvey the land occupied by the multinationals to establish the actual acreage.
Any extra land found during the survey will be ceded to the county governments to hold in trust for the local communities, the NLC ordered.
In Kilifi, detectives yesterday questioned two members of the county assembly after residents of Kadzinuni village attempted to invade and occupy 800 acres of private property.
The squatters are laying claim to the land that is at the centre of controversy between them and a number of private developers.
County DCI Officer Daniel Muleli wrote to Assembly Clerk Michael Ngala seeking to have ward reps Said Juma alias Kanyangweso [Junju] and Mr Kazungu Mbura [Mwarakaya] report to his office over the Saturday incident.
The politicians, who were also to meet newly posted County Commissioner Josephat Biwot, before heading to Mtwapa Police Station, are accused of incitement to violence.
The DCI is also investigating forcible detention of land, trespass on private property and malicious damage of property belonging to Vipingo Development Limited and Vipingo Energy Ltd.
Political activist Nicholas Wanyepe was issued a separate summons. Mr Muleli warned the politicians that they risked arrest and prosecution for failing to honour the summons.
However, the Bambani community led by Mr Wanyepe has vowed to reclaim the land, saying, it rightfully belongs to them.
On Saturday, a group of 500 youths invaded part of the sisal plantation in Kadzinuni.
Mr Wanyepe said they moved to occupy the land after the Vipingo Sisal Estate failed to honour the three-month notice to clear the farm to allow local people to settle there.
“We had our title deed and issued a notice to the sisal farm to clear the land. However, as we waited for them, we received information about plans by a cement factory to erect a perimeter wall around the expansive land,” he said.
Reclaim the land
Mr Wanyepe said the journey by the locals to reclaim the land started eight years ago.
“We are not criminals but genuine landowners. We found out that the lease had expired and followed due process with the Ministry of Lands. We have all the relevant documents, including the title deed and Certificate of Title for a 99-year lease issued in 2002,” he said.
Mr Wanyepe said three big companies in the area, including the cement manufacturing company, were eyeing prime land for use and were not ready to relinquish ownership after the expiry of their lease.
On Sunday, General Service Unit police officers joined their regular counterparts in repulsing an attempted invasion of the land.
Kilifi South Land Control Board member Abdulkarim Hassan said the land dispute started when one of the companies wanted to take over after the expiry lease. He said the county government did not follow the right procedure to reclaim the land after the lease had expired.
In Nakuru County, squatters have in the past one week invaded various private farms in Naivasha sub-county, destroying properties in Moi Ndabi, Ndabibi, and Kosovo areas.
In a seemingly well-orchestrated scheme, the criminal gangs have been invading private land, allocating themselves plots, and proceeding to plant their crops on the properties illegally. Some have even gone ahead to lease out grabbed land to third parties.
Borne the brunt
Interestingly, the squatters have vowed to remain put in the farms, saying, it is unfair for a few people to own huge tracts of land while they have none.
Large landowners in the area who have borne the brunt of the invasions include Mr Benjamin Kipkulei. He was a high-ranking official in former President Daniel Arap Moi’s administration.
A source within the farm said more than 100 acres belonging to Mr Kipkulei have been forcibly taken, with squatters planting crops on the land.
The encroachment is largely driven by the agricultural potential of land in the area, with farmers enjoying bumper harvests.
Some of the invaders, according to sources, had been leasing out the land to third parties for farming, minting huge sums of money.
“Land-grabbing cartels are making millions of shillings leasing land belonging to other people to third parties,” said the source.
The squatters, who are said to have migrated from Njoro, have been engaging security officers in a cat-and-mouse game, determined to stay despite efforts to flush them out.
Yesterday, Nation established that police officers had been deployed to different farms in Ndabibi to evict illegal settlers.
In an interview with Nation yesterday, Naivasha Deputy County Commissioner Kisilu Mutua said anyone found farming or living there and who did not have documents to prove ownership will be kicked out as authorities moved to restore order.
He divulged that security officers have instructions to authenticate lease agreements and ownership documents for those planting crops on various farms.
“We don’t have new invasions and have largely contained the number of those who travelled far and wide to, ostensibly, carry out farming activities,” said the administrator.
Mr Mutua said the recent invasions were not an “entirely new phenomenon”, with administrators having deterred similar encroachments in the past.
With most of the private lands remaining largely idle, brokers have been leasing out other people’s farms to the unsuspecting public.
“We have managed to dismantle the cartel but it seems some of them have regrouped, having made a killing from the lucrative leasing activities,” added Mr Mutua.
Following the recent march into the farms, a high-powered security team led by the Rift Valley Regional Commissioner Abdi Hassan is expected to tour the area today to assess the situation.
A week ago, a group of youth attempted to invade Kedong ranch, but police thwarted the move.
Attempted to destroy
Narok County security agencies revealed that the youth attempted to destroy the fence, but their attempts were thwarted by the police who used tear gas to disperse them.
“We received reports that a group of youth from the neighbouring community planned to invade the 75,000-acre property. We deployed ant-riot officers from 6am in the morning. They thwarted the attempt by the youth to invade the land,” said County Commissioner Isaac Masinde.
Reporting by Vitalis Kimutai, Macharia Mwangi, Maureen Ongala and Mwangi Ndirangu