Lands official testifies that contested Mau title deeds are shady

Former Narok Councilor Korema ole Surum surrendering his title deeds from Maasai Mau forest to Narok County Commissioner George Natembeya at Narok. The government had ordered those with title deeds in the 'status quo' section to surrender them. [Robert Kiplagat, Standard]

A court has been told that the legality of title deeds in the contested Maasai Mau region cannot be authenticated.

In her submissions in the Environment and Lands Court last Friday, Joy Brenda Machida, who was appearing for the National Land Commission, said there was no relationship between the title deedspresented in court by petitioners and the alleged membership of group ranches within the Maasai Mau.

She said some of the title deeds did not have the land parcel numbers while others were not signed by the relevant authorities.

“For those that were signed, the parcels of land cannot be traced on the map,” Ms Machida said.

She was testifying in a case in which Kericho Governor Paul Chepkwony and Mau evictees, led by Joseph Kimeto ole Mapelu, have separately filed a petition at the High Court to have the recent Maasai Mau evictions declared illegal. 

A similar petition had been filed before the Environment and Lands Court and earlier in the day, all parties consented to have the two petitions consolidated into one because the contents and respondents were the same.

Lobby group

Lawyer Martin Kamwaro, appearing for the lobby group Friends of the Mau who have been enjoined as an interested party, had said the title deeds were mere papers acquired unlawfully and illegally.

Mr Kamwaro told Justice Mohammed Kullow that a cut-line established to separate the ranches from the forest “was as imaginary as the Equator line”.

The cutline, a 24-kilometre buffer that separates Maasai Mau and Olpusimoru Forest Reserve, was established in 2008 on the recommendation of a task force set up to look into ways of saving the Mau.

But Humphrey Manyange, representing the petitioners, said the title deeds in question were issued between 1996 and 2004, adding that they were issued to the original and initial members of five group ranches whose ownership is being questioned.

Mr Manyange also told the court that his clients were indigenous residents of the land under dispute by virtue of their identity, namely the Ndorobo and Ogiek communities.

The court however declined to issue the temporary orders to stop the evictions.

The judge explained that he had decided not to do so due to the huge volume of documents presented in court that need to be interrogated as well as the fact that the courts were on recess.

He said he would deliver a ruling on September 17.

Oscar Eredi, who was appearing for the Attorney General, had told the court that the group ranches had grossly exceeded their acreage into the forest, making their actions illegal. About five ranches have bought land in the forest where the evictees are said to have settled.

“If you have been affected, you are in the forest. It is our endeavour to conserve the forest and that is why we have removed people from forest land,” said Mr Eredi.

All the respondents said the first phase of evictions was already over and urged the court to weigh public interest against individual interest as the Mau Forest served a wider population.

Permanent injunction

Governor Chepkwony has urged the court to issue a permanent injunction restraining further evictions, claiming that private landowners are being evicted despite having lawful title deeds.

He has named the Cabinet secretaries for Lands and Interior as the first and second respondents.

The governor also named the Narok County Commissioner, Administration Police Commandant, National Land Commission, Kenya Wildlife Service, Kenya Forest Service, Attorney General and Nyayo Tea Zones as respondents.