Squatters left homeless as property dispute escalates

Squatters at Sir Ramson Farm in Taveta sub-county, Taita Taveta County, collect what remained of their houses after they were demolished by bulldozers at the weekend. [Renson Mnyamwezi, Standard]
Hundreds of squatters have been left homeless after their houses were destroyed at the weekend.

The 2,300-acre Sir Ramson Farm has been at the centre of conflicts between the squatters, surveyors and police.

The land, in Taveta sub-county, was donated by the Kenyatta family to the local community in 2013. However, attempts to have the land surveyed for sub-division have resulted in dispute.

The squatters are also opposed to plans to build roads leading to the farm and have chased away surveyors and contractors on several occasions.

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The squatters are accusing the national government of planning to evict them without giving them alternative land.

Guard farm

Armed police officers have been deployed to guard the farm. They said they had orders not to give journalists and politicians access to the farm.

"We have orders from above to arrest and prosecute any journalist or politician entering the farm. Your presence here is prohibited," said one of the officers at the farm.

Yesterday, several journalists who had gone to cover the progress of sub-dividing the land were sent back. They were escorted for more than 3km by armed officers.

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Taveta politician Moris Mutiso found himself in trouble when he attended a church service on the disputed land. Mr Mutiso was ejected from the church by armed police and escorted off the property.

"I was at AIC Kiposuri Church only for armed police officers to humiliate me before my fellow worshippers. They kicked me out as the service was going on and other congregants watched in disbelief," he said. "They told me not to set foot on the farm ever again. The situation is bad,” said the ANC politician.

Mutiso said he would go to court to stop the Government from evicting the squatters.

Meanwhile, top county and national government officials in the region remained silent on the matter.

On Thursday, county police boss Fred Ochieng denied claims the Government had deployed police officers to evict people from the farm.

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He said a team of Anti-Stock Theft Unit officers had been deployed at Ziwani estate but was quick to point out that it was a routine deployment and unrelated to the land dispute.

“Nobody will be evicted as claimed by some people,” said Mr Ochieng.

The deployment came in the wake of last month’s skirmishes at the farm during which one squatter was shot dead. Several others suffered gunshot wounds in a confrontation with police.

Government vehicles

Three officers also sustained injuries from arrows and five Government vehicles were damaged in the three-day violence.

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The Government has deployed more than 200 officers to protect surveyors sub-dividing the land. The officers are also protecting personnel and equipment building the road leading to the farm.

“As I talk to you now, scores of people are fleeing their farms for fear of eviction and arrest. Those perceived to be resisting the road construction are been targeted for arrest and prosecution,” said Kelvin Nzioka, one of the squatters.

Children and the elderly are worst hit by the commotion, Mr Nzioka told The Standard from Njukini trading centre.

Other sources said the talk of evictions was triggered when the squatters diverted water from Tsavo River to irrigate their farms. The sources said this had affected activities at a nearby research farm.

"This reduced the amount of water to the research farm. The security operation is aimed at unblocking the canals to allow water back into the river then to the farm,” said a police officer.

Past efforts by local leaders, including Governor Granton Samboja, Senator Jones Mwaruma and senior Ministry of Interior officials to find a lasting solution to the dispute have failed.

Sir Ramson Farmsquattersevictionstaita taveta county