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Killings rock land company, 43 years later

By Boniface Gikandi | Published Wed, July 23rd 2014 at 00:00, Updated July 22nd 2014 at 23:22 GMT +3
Shareholders of the troubled Kihiumwiri farm in Gatanga district are all ears during a forum convened by their leaders over the increased insecurity in the area. [PHOTO: BONIFACE GIKANDI/STANDARD]

When a group of Kenya’s first President Jomo Kenyatta’s age mates mooted the idea of forming a land-buying firm, they had no idea that 43 years later, their investments would be worth billions.

The old men did not also have the slightest idea that the name they had adopted for their company, Kihiumwiri, which loosely translates to a big knife in the body, or a hot-blooded person, would live up to its true meaning.

Years later, the land has turned into a killing field in the time of their descendants.

When the group of prospective investors started collecting money and formed Kihiumwiri Farmers Company Limited, they only managed to pool Sh120,000 which was hardly enough to buy the land owned by a white farmer. The land is situated in Gatanga district and borders the expansive Delmonte pineapple plantation.

They are reported to have approached the late President who advised them to obtain a loan from the  Agriculture Finance Corporation and they got Sh480,000. The money enabled them to buy 1,280 acres of land which was under coffee.

But today, all the founders of the company are long gone. Dead too are the once lucrative coffee plantations the company had invested in.

The descendants of those visionary pioneers have inherited nothing but bad blood. A number of them have lost their lives in controversial circumstances after they questioned the way the land had been parcelled out.

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Our investigations have established that the slaying of directors dates back to August 28, 2000, when the then company’s chairman, Benson Ngumi Job, was slashed to death as he walked to a meeting he was to chair.

Prior to this killing, there had been protracted disputes over the actual number of shareholders.

Since then, members, directors and administrators opposed to a faction of the firm’s leadership have been killed.

A former sub-chief, Newton Chege Muhoro, who was elected as a director, disappeared in mysterious circumstances on January 10. Three suspended directors: Henry Ngugi Karuga, Job Mwangi Ngumi and James Kimaru Macharia vanished late last year soon after they were publicly stripped off their jobs.

During the same period, the family of Wilfred Gichana Mwangi was traumatised after his wife, Naomi Mwangi was abducted and held for 10 days before she was released after a ransom was paid.

“We were horrified when Mwangi was later accosted by a gang and shot dead in cold blood. We do not know why they shot him since nothing was stolen from him,” a local who did not want to be named disclosed.

As a result of the killings, a number of directors are living in fear because they believe the deaths and disappearances of their colleagues are due to persistent squabbles surrounding the land and its shareholding.

Currently, the company has 6,000 registered members, with suspicions that the membership could have risen to more than 15,000 as 9,000 are in possession of fake certificates.

The membership is torn between Mr Peter Kariuki Macharia and Peter Kimani Kuria, who are both fighting over control of the land presently valued at a billion shillings.

Kariuki said he was working towards issuing title deeds to the genuine shareholders to end the wrangles, although his claim to leadership has been contested by the rival camp. He added that the board has worked tirelessly towards issuance of title deeds to the shareholders.

He said a vetting exercise was done to ensure no members would be left out, pursuant to a government directive to have all land-buying companies conclude their affairs pending winding up.

But Kuria and his allies have disowned the purported vetting of the shareholders where each gave Sh25,500 for clearance between June and July last year. “At no time did I sit in that vetting committee and we instructed our lawyer to oppose any move to collect the money from the public to facilitate the process,” said Kuria.

Outgoing Gatanga deputy county commissioner Patrick Mukuria said the police were investigating incidents of murder and abduction at the troubled farm. “Police are also working to establish individuals selling non-existent parcels of land, which has been identified to be the cause of the trouble at the farm,” he said.

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