Huge mineral deposits are at the centre of the latest boundary dispute that has roped in three counties.
Officials from the Taita Taveta, Kwale and Makueni governments have also spotted the disputed area's potential to bring in additional revenue to fill their counties’ coffers.
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Last week's threat by Taita Taveta Governor Granton Samboja to install revenue and enforcement officers in Mtito Andei stirred debate on a matter that has remained unresolved for years.
Mtito Andei town is currently administered by the Makueni government.
Both Mackinnon Road and Mtito Andei towns, which have featured in the latest row between the three counties, lie on the Nairobi-Mombasa highway.
Taita Taveta and Kwale both claim to own Mackinnon Road town, which is currently administered by Kwale and is dominated by the Taita and Duruma communities. The town also has a sizeable population of Somali, Wariangulo, and Maasai traders and pastoralists.
Taita Taveta leaders claim Mackinnon Road was previously in their jurisdiction until it was unilaterally transferred to Kwale in the late 1960s.
However, it is believed that the dispute is being fuelled by plans for oil and coal exploration, scheduled to begin in Mackinnon Road.
The area, which has been designated as Block 119, also covers Vigurungani and Taru Desert.
Buoyed by the prospects of reaping huge fortunes should the prospecting be successful, the two counties have put up a spirited fight to claim territorial rights.
“It is all about mineral deposits in the area and revenue for counties. It has nothing to do with the locals,” said former Taita Taveta county council chairman Aresmus Mwarabu.
Recently, Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya spoke of the county's ambitions to become a leading exporter of minerals, especially iron ore. He also hinted at the Mackinnon Road oil deposits.
On Wednesday, the controversy surrounding the long-standing boundary dispute between the two counties surfaced in the Taita Taveta county assembly, with members calling for dialogue between leaders from both sides.
It also emerged that the Office of the President had summoned Mr Samboja and Mr Mvurya to Nairobi today to discuss the matter.
Taita Taveta Director of Communications Dennis Onsarigo told The Standard yesterday that the President's office “has asked the two governors to be in Nairobi on Friday”.
The meeting will also be attended by officials from the Ministry of Interior and Co-ordination of National Government in the two counties.
The escalating boundary disputes are largely attributed to delineation errors by the colonial government, undefined and unmarked borders, poor or absent border management, inept governance and growing populations.
In Mackinnon and Kuranze, there have been no regional mechanisms and frameworks to address how any mineral wealth is managed and shared between the two counties.
According to colonial and post-independence maps seen by The Standard, the boundary between Kwale and Taita Taveta lies in Miasenyi near Maungu town.
But the Taita Taveta administration insists the boundary should pass in the middle of Mackinnon Road trading centre, at Mbele Primary School, near the Mackinnon Road Kenya Wildlife Camp.
They blame the colonial administration for the boundary mess, saying before the border was altered, the defunct Taita Taveta County Council collected revenue in Mackinnon and Mtito Andei towns.
“The creation of Mtito Andei Town Council in 1992 without consultation was a highly provocative act with potential for tribal clashes. It has led to bad blood and protests, including violent confrontations lately. The time for correction is now,” said Mashengu wa Mwachofi, a former MP for Wundanyi.
Mr Mwachofi claimed the boundary between Taita Taveta and Kwale districts was previously understood to be on Taru Hill.
Mr Mwarabu blamed the defunct Taita Taveta County Council for losing Mtito Andei town to Makueni in 1992. He said the former council contracted the Makueni County Council to collect revenue on its behalf instead of deploying its own revenue and enforcement officers.
Mr Onsarigo said dialogue had already been initiated between Makueni and Taita Taveta to discuss the future of Mtito Andei. Makueni leaders have also weighed in on the debate.
“County border disputes are serious issues that are considered in the County Boundaries Bill 2017. Only Parliament can alter these boundaries, not governors”, said Makueni Senator Mutula Kilonzo Jr.
According to the senator, any disputed boundaries can only be altered by a special team after either elected leaders or members of the public successfully petition the Senate.