Ruto intervenes in Murang’a, Kiambu County row over vast Del Monte land

A section of the expansive Del Monte farm

A section of the expansive Del Monte farm. The American fruit processor has ceded 1,400 acres of land to the Murang’a County government. 

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • American fruit processor, Del Monte, ceded 1,400 acres to Murang’a County government.
  • There are reports that some powerful individuals are angling to grab the land for private use.

Murang’a leaders convened an emergency meeting last Saturday to regularise 100 acres President William Ruto’s administration wants to build a Sh20 billion Export Processing Zone (EPZ) in Ithanga/Kakuzi Sub-County.

The land is part of the 1, 400 acres that the American fruit processor—Del Monte company—has ceded to the Murang’a County government for public use. But the vast land has been the subject of controversy amid reports that some powerful individuals were angling to grab it for private use.

Murang’a leaders had been wrangling over the land, but apparently moved fast after the Kiambu County government started making overtures to the president to redirect the EPZ facility there, saying it also had land ceded by the same company, and unlike in Murang’a, its leaders were not tussling over it.

“You Murang’a leaders you got to put your house in order so that we can commence our programmes on that land…At stake are jobs for your youths and benefits for your farmers…” President Ruto hit out at Kenol town on August 9 when he commenced a five-day tour of Kiambu, Murang’a, Kirinyaga and Nyeri counties.

The president spoke his mind again on August 10 when he met Mt Kenya Members of Parliament at Sagana State Lodge where he railed at the Murang’a leaders for what he termed as “unnecessary tussles that have no basis and with no public interest”.

The president is reported to have picked on the leaders who have been vocal in placing demands around the Del Monte land, urging Senator Joe Nyutu to cease ‘kizungu mingi (stop high talk about the issue)’ and instead use his senatorial position to reconcile the divergent views.

The government intends to build an EPZ, a county aggregation and Industrial Park as well an affordable housing project.

But the County government has lined up a Level Five hospital on the land. Mr Nyutu told Saturday Nation that last Saturday’s meeting resolved to regularise the land the president wants and the remainder strictly be put to public use.

“We will not put any stopper to the president’s pet project and we are in agreement that we need the development. We have agreed that the availing of the land be fast tracked so that the projects can commence within schedule,” he said.

Trade and Investment Trade CS Moses Kuria said, “We want the county government and the leaders to give us the go ahead to gazette the project so that we start dealing with the technical demands before fully engaging the buildings”.

National Treasury CS Prof Njuguna Ndung’u, who hails from the county, said, “the president has strongly guided us that we set aside funds for these projects that will be of immense benefits to locals”.

He said an EPZ will offer jobs while aggregation centers will help farmers get more organised in pursuit of enhanced market gains.

Housing PS Charles Hinga said “the president’s single desire is to see Murang’a youths busy in the construction sites…it is not all about the projects but the accompanying transformative gains”.

Mr Kuria pointed out that he has since through gazette notice of February 17, 2023 declared EPZ lands safe for the Murang’a project that had ownership issues.

Mr Kimani Wamatangi told Saturday Nation that the county has in its custody a 100 acres of land that can be used to host the president’s project.

“With our huge population and proximity to Thika industrial town that is soon becoming a digital smart City, we deserve an EPZ more than any of our neighbours,” added Mr Wamatangi, pointing out that his administration received 600 acres from Del Monte, and that the county is in possession of the documents.

“We have no politics, hence we can at short notice avail it for use,” he stressed.

Murang’a Governor, Irungu Kang’ata, did not respond to inquiries.

PS Hinga announced that the president was raring to effect his promise of launching the low cost housing project in Murang’a if the county were to get the land.

“We have done it in Kirinyaga and Kiambu…it is Murang’a’s turn, and soon, hopefully, this is going to happen where we intend to roll out the first 2, 000 units in Makenji,” said Mr Hinga.

Kangema MP Peter Kihungi, who was at the meeting, said area leaders were in agreement that they will not waste more time on the politics surrounding the Del Monte land, and that of the 1, 400 acres that the County has received, they will immediately make 100 acres available for the gazettement of the EPZ going by the president’s wish.

He said the remaining land will be subjected to a spatial plan so that every inch of it can be accounted for.

“There are those who felt that they now have ample time to grab the land and subdivide it among themselves. There are others who felt that the land will be balloted for by neighbouring Kandara constituency residents…We are sorry, that is not the case,” he said.

A group calling itself Kandara Residents Association has been very vocal in demanding that Del Monte release to it 70 per cent of 7,500 acres they claim is their ancestral land that the processor ‘forcibly’ occupies.

As the controversy raged towards last year’s General Election, the Del Monte lease was renewed four days after Kenyans voted on August 9, 2022.

But even as Murang’a leaders agreed to facilitate the building of the EPZ on that parcel of land, one of the leaders told Saturday Nation that “what we need to know is how the company in the same breath that gave us 1, 400 acres gave out a further 3, 000 acres to a prominent Kiambu County family that immediately leased it back to the processor”.

He said that has been the bone of contention, where the county was given the land for public use but another family gained irregularly by receiving land that was meant for the community.

“The president is the custodian of all intelligence in the country, some, big politicians from Kiambu County grabbed 3, 000 acres of our land. Instead of complaining, the president should order Del Monte to furnish him with all lease agreements it has signed with private individuals and he will get information that a certain matriarch is the sole beneficiary of those 3, 000 acres,” said a member of the Lands committee in Murang’a County Assembly, who did not want to be named.

The member added, “All the Murang’a County politicians have that information but are too afraid to confront the president with it.”

Del Monte Managing Director Mr Stergios Gkaliamoutsas declined to comment about the saga, but in an earlier statement to the National Assembly Lands Committee had stated that “we as a company are committed to cooperate with all relevant institutions to ensure all arising issues are dealt with and resolved”.

Former Gatanga MP Nduati Ngugi said stakeholders had done the groundwork towards ensuring the community gets its share, even though the process was still in the works.

“This matter is too grave and of great public interest that the debate should be sustained and aimed at correcting what could have gone wrong,” said Mr Ngugi. Indeed, a senior member of the Central Region security committee confirmed that “the President was officially informed by intel team of the real situation on the ground and the cartel out to take over the land that was meant for the community”.

The source added that “there are politicians and businessmen who are using Del Monte to hoard batches in tens of acres preying on a chance to grab them”.

The claimed fraud is being fueled by the fact that it has never been crystal clear on the total acreage that Del Monte sits on.

When she appeared before parliamentary committee on land last year, Ms Farida Karoney, then CS, Lands, said the government intended to renew 32, 240 acres for the company.

But in its submissions, Del Monte said it sits on 22, 500 acres and the committee in its report said the lease agreement reads 20, 000 acres.

Del Monte further reported that it utilises 14, 000 acres which it has put under pineapple plantation.

It is in light of these disparities that the National Land Commission (NLC) and parliament ordered the directorate of Survey to measure out the land and give the official figure of the holding.

The report is yet to be filed.

National assembly Committee on Lands chair Josh Nyamoko recently led his team on a fact finding mission where they met with locals.

“Upon careful scrutiny of submitted documents, the Committee discovered that 4,843 acres of land had been surrendered to Murang'a County, however, the land could not be accounted for, raising concerns,” he said.

Mr Nyamoko’s revelation casts major doubt on the applying math here, where if the said “big family” got the 3, 000 acres and the Murang’a county government was given 1, 400 acres, then there are 443 acres yet to be accounted for.

The math does not factor in the fact that the “big family” is officially listed to have received 2, 000 acres, hence a top up of a further unaccounted for 1, 000 acres.

These intrigues of throwing about numbers defines the high stake politics being played with the issue to the infuriation of the head of state, who in turn is accused of acting unaware when he is accused of being aware.

In May this year, the Murang’a Security committee released a report that captured activities of a powerful cartel that was masquerading as a cooperative society and was selling off part of the Del Monte land.