Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition Party’s Raila Odinga now wants ownership documents for a 2,500-acre farm in Taita Taveta County belonging to Deputy President William Ruto suspended, pending investigation into his acquisition of the land in the latest escalation of the matter at the heart of Coast politics.
In a swift response, the DP Wednesday dared President Kenyatta, who is backing Mr Odinga in the presidential race, to produce evidence of land ownership at the Coast, as well as state the total value of the land he owns.
Through Azimio Secretary-General Junet Mohamed, the team wants Lands Cabinet Secretary Faridah Karoney to preserve the status quo of the title documents of the property, pending formation of a commission of inquiry to investigate the matter, to be established if Mr Odinga wins the presidency.
‘Blocked off key water canal’
“We write to you on the behalf of thousands of residents of Taita Taveta County regarding disputed land acquired by the Deputy President, Dr Ruto, in Mata ward. Dr Ruto has, by abusing the power entrusted to him by Kenyans in various state offices since 2005, appropriated to himself over 2,500 acres in Taita Taveta County and blocked off a key water canal, leading to dwindling water levels in Lake Jipe, which provides numerous locals with water and fish,” said Mr Mohamed in the letter that is copied to the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, the National Land Commission and the Assets Recovery Agency.
Mr Mohamed, who is also the Suna East MP, said that, if Azimio forms the next government, Mr Odinga will investigate the DP on how he acquired the disputed land.
“The commission of inquiry shall be mandated, inter alia, to recommend whether the title documents issued in favour of Dr Ruto should be cancelled and whether ownership of the property should revert to the state to be held in trust and for the benefit of the people of Taita-Taveta County,” said the Azimio Secretary-General.
The Suna East MP claimed that when Mr Ruto was appointed Agriculture minister in the Grand Coalition Government under President Mwai Kibaki and Mr Odinga in April 2008, he used his office to gift himself the land in question.
“The blatant abuse of office by Dr Ruto in the process of acquiring the land is plain and self-evident. Dr Ruto claims he was gifted the land by Basil Criticos, a former Member of Parliament in the area, after he assisted Criticos to pay off a loan owed to a government agency, the Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC),” he said.
Mr Mohamed added: “As a minister, the AFC was one of his dockets. Mr Criticos approached Dr Ruto for help and in exchange for his help, the Deputy President ended up with the 2,500-acre ‘gift’.”
However, Dr Ruto, who was in Taita-Taveta campaigning, said records of the land he owns in the Coast are in the public domain.
He dared President Kenyatta— and by extension, the family of Kenya’s first president Jomo Kenyatta— and his other critics to produce evidence of land ownership at the Coast, as well as the total value of land they own in the country.
“If you want us to talk about land issues, then I’m ready. You should bring out the receipts of the lands you own and reveal the people you bought them from.
“I will come with my receipts showing who I bought from,” the DP said in Njukini area, where the First Family donated land to settle some families in 2005.
In his rallies, Dr Ruto pledged that a Kenya Kwanza government would buy one million acres from absentee landlords at the Coast to resettle squatters.
“I’m telling you we will set aside government funds to buy land so that we settle squatters in the region. Stop talking about my land of 2,500 acres. That is just a small portion. They will not intimidate us,” Dr Ruto said.
“We came and distributed some title deeds here and we will come again to ensure more people are given the documents so that everyone owns the land,” he said.
The DP’s communications director, Mr Emmanuel Talam, Wednesday dismissed Mr Mohamed’s claims, saying, he had no legal standing to give orders to a Cabinet secretary.
“In what capacity is Junet instructing a Cabinet secretary? He is over-stretching his mandate as Azimio master of ceremonies,” said Mr Talam, in reference to Mr Mohamed’s role in Azimio rallies.
Mr Mohamed’s letter comes just a week after Mr Odinga, while campaigning at the Coast, pledged to investigate Dr Ruto’s land dealings in the region if elected in next month’s elections.
“Why did he [Criticos] not give the land to residents? He should have started with the locals,” said Mr Mohamed, adding that the region supported Mr Odinga in previous elections and urged the residents to vote for him this year.
“We’ve been behind Raila in all elections. We won’t leave him as we are close to the State House,” he said.
In his letter, Mr Mohamed says that the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) presidential candidate acted against Section 11 of the Public Officer Ethics Act 2003 for using his office to enrich himself.
Gift to state officer
“Section 14 of the Leadership and Integrity Act, 2012 states that ‘a gift or donation given to a state officer on a public or official occasion shall be treated as a gift or donation to the state,” Mr Mohamed said.
Mr Odinga’s confidante claimed that the Deputy President used his position as the Agriculture minister to award himself several acres of across the country, a matter that needs to be looked into by the Ministry of Lands.
“The abuse of AFC by Dr Ruto to acquire land in Taita-Taveta County mirrors another irregular transaction he also participated in to acquire close to 1,000 acres in Trans Mara, hived off Intona Ranch, owned by former Vice-President Joseph Murumbi,” claimed Mr Mohamed.
“In 2015, Dr Ruto who again had oversight of the Ministry of Agriculture (by extension AFC) under the first Jubilee administration, acquired 976 acres that was part of Intona Ranch land in Trans Mara West sub-county after allegedly paying off a loan owed to the AFC by the late Murumbi. The land was bought through North Mogor Holdings,” he added.
Mr Mohamed also listed the Ngong Forest land saga, Weston Hotel, and a beach hotel in Shanzu as some of the parcels of land the DP acquired illegally.
Muteshi land case
He further cited the Adrian Gilbert Muteshi land case, in which Deputy President Ruto was ordered to return 100 acres belonging to the man to support his claims against the DP.
The Taita-Taveta farm, located in Mata ward, borders the vast Criticos ranch and Lake Jipe to the south, has been at the centre of controversy over its ownership.
DP Ruto grows maize and rears cattle on the farm and has previously been accused of diverting water meant for the residents, forcing hundreds of households to go without a drop.
His manager, Mr Arie Dempers, has also been accused of harassing neighbours and workers at the farm.
In 2019, Mr Dempers was arrested by police officers after he stormed into a local mosque armed with a rifle, and disrupted morning prayers.
And in 2020, the Taita-Taveta County government claimed that Dr Ruto diverted the main water pipeline that serves the location to his farm.
It moved to the Taveta Law Courts seeking orders to allow its officials and police officers access to the parcel of land.