What you need to know:
- It was one of those experiences to bedevil a man who was once a powerful minister in Kibaki’s administration.
- Mr Kimunya was accused of irregularly allocating a 25-acre parcel of land identified as Nyandarua/Njabini/5852 to a private entity, M/s Midlands.
- He accused some powerful individuals at the national and county government of Nyandarua, of trying to fix him politically.
- Kipipiri is one of the five constituencies in Nyandarua that would have benefited from the project that has been grounded for the last 16 years.
On March 14, 2014, Amos Muhinga Kimunya, who had just lost his Kipipiri parliamentary seat in the previous year’s elections, was arrested by anti-corruption detectives and charged in court over illegal transfer of public land.
To Mr Kimunya, the day was a black Friday of sorts.
The allegations were that in 2004, when he served as Lands minister in President Mwai Kibaki’s government, he irregularly allocated a 25-acre parcel of land identified as Nyandarua/Njabini/5852 to a private entity, M/s Midlands, an agro-processing and storage facility that was owned by local farmers.
He, however, did not spend the night at the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) cells at its Integrity Centre headquarters.
He was bailed out the same day and arraigned three days later — on a Monday morning together with Ms Lilian Njenga (former director of settlement scheme) and Mr Junghane Wainaina (Midlands Limited chairman).
It was one of those experiences to bedevil a man who was once a powerful minister in Kibaki’s administration. The time to fall had come.
In 2012, EACC had filed a recovery suit against Mr Kimunya and the two other accused at the High Court in Nakuru.
The case would later be transferred to the Environment and Land Court in Nyahururu.
Even before the civil matter could be heard and determined, EACC filed a criminal case at the Anti-Corruption Court in Nairobi against Mr Kimunya, Ms Njenga, Mr Wainaina and Midlands Limited.
However, on May 20, 2020, about six years after the case was filed, heard and determined, Senior Principal Magistrate Felix Kombo acquitted the three of fraud charges in the land case.
Mr Kimunya, now the Kipipiri MP and Leader of Majority in the National Assembly, accused some powerful individuals at the national and county government of Nyandarua, of trying to fix him politically.
“The arrest was politically triggered. They used the opportunity to harass me to ensure that I do not come back politically. I have learned a lot from that horrible experience,” Mr Kimunya told the Nation in an interview.
“People wanted to mess up my name because they thought I was harbouring governorship ambitions in Nyandarua. Mr Wainaina, Ms Njenga and the farmers company were just collateral in the whole scheme,” he says, noting that no shred of evidence was adduced in court to show that he was criminally responsible.
Bow down in shame
Mr Kimunya says the people who wanted him to suffer and get denied clearance to vie for a political seat in the August 8, 2017 general election should now bow down in shame.
“They should see that I am back. I am the Leader of Majority in the National Assembly. The person who sang ombea adui yako aishi siku nyingi ili unapobarikiwa ajionee kwa macho….may have had me in mind,” the Kipipiri MP said.
Kipipiri is one of the five constituencies in Nyandarua that would have benefited from the project that has been grounded for the last 16 years – had it not been caught up in politics.
The other constituencies are Ol Kalou, Kinangop, Oljoro Orok and Ndaragua.
Mr Kimunya admits that the project was messed up politically – but still hopes it could be revived.
How an agro-processing facility was caught up in local politics is the story of many such projects in the countryside.
It all started in the 1980s when the idea of setting up a processing plant for vegetables, potatoes, pyrethrum among other crops came up.
In 1987, Midlands Limited, an agro-processing and storage facility, currently valued at about Sh8 billion, was registered.
About 12,000 households spread across Nyandarua County have a stake in the agro-processing-cum-storage facility after buying shares.
Mr Wainaina reveals that registering a private company at the time was not a joke. “I remember special branch officers visiting my home to understand just who we were,” Mr Wainaina says, adding: “In 2002 we approached local politicians from the four constituencies and they said it was a good idea.”
Mr Kimunya affirms that he supported the project fully as it was aimed at not only reducing post-harvest food wastage, providing a stable market and value addition, but also increasing the farmers share of the market value of their produce.
This was based on the fact that they owned the processor.
Farmers subscribed in droves as individuals, companies, co-operatives and self-help groups.
Support for farmers
“The issue was how do we promote the company? We all got educated from the proceeds of pyrethrum and potatoes. So our thoughts were, how can the future generation be supported?”
“These are the reasons why I got involved to support the farmers. Each of us including the area leadership bought shares to promote it and to improve grading and marketing of farm produce so that farmers get good value and guaranteed predictable income,” Mr Kimunya says.
The tricky part of the agro-processing and storage facility odyssey was how to get land for the company.
According to Mr Wainaina, the government was approached to render assistance “to this visionary innovation” through allocation of affordable land.
“The Ministry of Agriculture told us that because the land they were using belonged to the Settlement Fund Trustees (SFT), it was only fair that we apply for allocation from the fund.”
“We applied to SFT to have the land allocated to us. Kimunya was never involved in the allocation. He only came into the picture because at the time he was the senior most person from Nyandarua in Cabinet, and who we wanted to involve in the project,” he says.
SFT would later allocate the company 25 acres at Njabini, a trading centre in the county’s Kinangop constituency. The allocated land was part of the 75-acre land belonging to SFT that the Ministry of Agriculture was using for a potato seed multiplication project.
In April 2004, all the then four area MPs and then Agriculture minister Kipruto arap Kirwa came to Njabini for the launch of the company.
In 2006 the title was given to the company. “By the time the Narc government came to power in 2003, the farmers were already working with the Ministry of Agriculture. I got Kirwa to launch the project at a colourful ceremony that saw us buy shares to promote the farmers,” Mr Kimunya says.
He says that the company was to be moulded along the lines of the New Kenya Cooperative Creameries and Kenya Farmers Association, among others.
The company developed a huge cold warehouse with a capacity of about 6,000 tonnes of potatoes.
It has a 22,000 square foot factory floor area, accommodating a French fries processing line and a dehydration unit with appropriate auxiliary machinery and infrastructure.
The investment attracted a number of investors including foreigners who recognised its potential as a source for supply of immediate and end user food items.
Come 2012, the local politics came into play and through the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission (KACC) that was renamed Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), war was declared on the project with claims that the land was irregularly allocated. “It was claimed that it was my company and that those listed as directors were my proxies yet it was a company that was started even before I got elected. I was just a token shareholder.”
The then KACC demanded that the land be surrendered to the Ministry of Agriculture.
It was at this time that the anti-graft agency went to court.
Former Ndaragwa MP Muchiri Gachara played a big role in the conceptualisation of the project.
He states that farmers raised Sh10 million after the government bought the idea and went ahead to process a title deed for the land on which the plant stands.
“The case was politically motivated,” Mr Gachara, a land surveyor, says.
Uneasy with Kimunya
Mr Gachara disclosed that some quarters may have felt “unease with Kimunya’s rising political star and may have wanted to cut him to size”.
Currently running his real estate business in Nairobi, Mr Gachara added that successive regimes should respect title deeds awarded by their predecessors.
However, despite the court determining that there was no evidence to prove the fraud allegations in the criminal case, the civil case in the Environment and Land Court in Nyahururu is still pending.
This is notwithstanding that this case is dependent on the testimonies of the same witnesses who testified in the criminal case with the baseline claim that the Ministry of Agriculture land was fraudulently alienated.
The intrigue deepens when you factor in the resolutions of the Nyandarua County Assembly.
On April 12, 2016, the assembly resolved that the government should withdraw its complaint on the matter. In a letter of June 6, 2017, conveying the resolutions of the Assembly to the EACC, former Governor Waithaka Mwangi noted that “the presence of the recovery suit...is injurious to the people of Nyandarua.”
“It has brought the operations at the Midlands plant to a standstill,” the former governor’s letter reads.
In January 2020, Nyandarua farmers presented a written petition to the EACC offices in Nyeri urging the commission to withdraw the case.
Interestingly, the EACC is yet to respond to the two inquiries.
Mr Kimunya admitted that to date he still follows up on matter and hopes that one day the farmers will realise their dream.
“That dream was almost killed. But the frustrations the farmers are going through are just delaying something big,” he noted.