The dispute over the sharing of 42,000 acres of land in Mwea settlement scheme in Embu County is threatening to turn the area in a battleground, sucking in Embu, Mbeere, Kikuyu and Kamba ethnic communities into a fatal conflict that could result in many deaths and delay the economic utilization of the vast land.
A recent visit to the area by Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka was meant to give moral support to the Kamba claimants of that which is under Embu County. Within the county itself, dispute by perennial rivals Embu and Mbeere tribes represent another fault line, as do claims by the Kirinyaga people that the land was stolen from them when the two were a single administrative unit.
Known as the Mwea Settlement Scheme, not to be confused with the South Ngariama Settlement Scheme in Kirinyaga part of Mwea which has since been settled, the land is mostly black cotton soil, which is agriculturally rich when rains are sufficient.
The land is part of the Mwea Trust Land.
The Trust had several other sections namely: Karaba, Riakanau, Wachoro and Makima.
The four sections were adjudicated in 1980 but issuance of title deeds remained pending until last year when the government started issuing them.
The adjudication process for the Mwea settlement scheme started in 1980 but stalled until the year 2013 to 2016 when the Embu County Government managed to demarcate, allocate and issue title deeds.
Embu Lands Executive Josphat Kithumbu explained that the scheme was divided into 34 blocks comprising individual parcels totalling 7,232 pieces.
He said the land shared out in ratios of 40 percent, 30 percent, 20 percent and 10 percent to Mbeere, Mwea, Embu and Kirinyaga communities respectively. Each individual was allocated five to 12 acres, according to Kithumbu.
However, there were claims some politicians influenced the process and allocated themselves hundreds of acres while many people residing there did not get any.
But Kithumbu said “the county government has accomplished a fete in legally demarcating and subdividing the contentious scheme after successive governments failed due to political interference since the 1970s.
He said the various groups of elders who had lodged cases in courts agreed to withdraw them.
“We allocated land as per lists of beneficiaries provided by elders’ groups. The Ministry of Lands and the National Lands Commission were involved in the issuance of the title deeds and the Lands Cabinet Secretary approved it. The Attorney General confirmed everything was done according to the law” said Kithumbu.
He said the scheme had since ceased to exist and replaced by individual parcels of lands with titles and with green cards available at the Siakago registry.
The official said the various towns and markets in the maps would be gazetted and their physical plans drawn to pave way for their development.
He assured that the issue of deserving residents who were mistakenly left had been taken care of since the County Government planned to issue an additional 2,000 parcels to them.
President Uhuru Kenyatta while campaigning in the area ahead of the 2017 general elections had called for solving of the arising disputes.
In April last year, the government deployed thousands of armed police officers to oversee the assigning of land to the 7,232 beneficiaries, which ended in deadly confrontations as scheme dwellers resisted it leading to the death of one person and injuries to several.
The national government suspended the resettlement indefinitely until the underlying issues are addressed.
Since 1970s, attempts to demarcate, allocate and issue titles to the scheme had floundered due to disagreements on the rightful owners of the land with several cases lodged in the court.
According to Nyangi Ndiiri Council of Elders of Embu which is pressing for a repeat of the demarcation and allocation of the land, the previous attempts by the defunct local authorities and the Embu County Government have gobbled up Sh66.8 million.
Real and fake land owners
Former Cabinet minister Joe Nyagah asserts that Mwea Settlement scheme belongs to Embu and Kirinyaga counties, hence their respective county governments should be involved for the distribution of land to be successful.
In an interview, Nyagah said the land historically belonged to the Ndia community of Kirinyaga and the Mbeere of Embu and was known as the Kikuyu Trust Land during the colonial period.
He explains that the Ndia and Mbeere communities later accommodated the Kambas. A similar sentiment is echoed by Kenyatta University historian Dr. Julius Gathongo who in a historical piece chronicles the efforts of the famous Chief Njega Gioko of Ndia who thwarted efforts by the colonisers to divide the Mwea land that extended the two counties.
“When the colonialists came, they wanted to take some parts of the present-day Kirinyaga County. Ndia leaders worked hard to stop the colonial advance, and particularly the taking of land. Njega was one of the defenders of the land… “In 1933, Chief Kombo wa Munyiri of Mavuria location of Mbeereland, in the present day Mbeere South Constituency, announced that henceforth, Mwea would be part of his Mavuria Location. Njega swiftly moved to the colonial court where he won the case; and even after an appeal in Nairobi, Njega still won the case. It is from there that songs were composed in praise of Njega wa Gioko,” writes Dr Gathogo.
Nyagah continues that when the government pulled Mbeere and Embu from Central to Eastern province, President Kenyatta would afterwards put the Kikuyu Trust Land under irrigation.
“It became Mwea Irrigation Scheme but in Central province. Mwea settlement scheme remained in Eastern province,” narrates Nyagah. Nyagah says his father Jeremiah Nyagah, a cabinet minister, attempted to have the scheme land distributed to the Mbeere and Kamba people but Kirinyaga’s Mihiriga Kenda obtained a court order stopping the exercise.
Nyagah recounts that Vice-President Daniel Moi chaired a meeting in 1978 in Kerugoya town of Kirinyaga which culminated in an agreement on the sharing of the settlement scheme.
Kirinyaga people were to get 1,000 farms of 10 acres each while 5,000 farms of 10 acres each should remain with the Embu people.
He says the process failed due to differences that led to some parties obtaining court injunctions. Nyagah advises that Embu Governor Martin Wambora and his Kirinyaga counterpart Anne Waiguru should work together and involve all stakeholders to find a solution.
The Kamba question
Kamba elders, on the other hand, tell a tale of how their grandfathers settled in the land in the 1920s where they met herders from Kirinyaga.
Sila Mwaniki, the vice-chairman Mwea Council of Elders, says the Kambas increased until 1933 when some of them were chased out of the land by a chief from Machakos so that they could pay tax at his abode.
The remaining Kambas continued to increase and fared along well with neighbouring Mbeeres, Embus and Kirinyagans until 1968 when the county council tried to evict them.
He says the then Vice President Moi came to their rescue but a decade later in 1978, subdivision of the land (adjudicated sections) was made without their knowledge. He says those evicted ended up in the Mwea settlement scheme where a good number were disenfranchised once again during the subdivision by the Embu County Government.
Former Mbeere South MP Mutava Musyimi in a previous public baraza explained that during the adjudication for the four sections, people who did not have families were left out and today they are landless grandparents.
Musyimi, who headed the Land Committee in the National Assembly, was unable to end the wrangles after falling out with then-Embu leadership.
So were other influential leaders including Cabinet ministers Jeremiah Nyagah and his son Joe. According to scheme dwellers, over the years, thousands of people from as far as Makueni, Kitui, Machakos, Kirinyaga, Murang’a and other parts of Embu County have been moved to the Mwea scheme by influential people with the promise of getting land.
Elders from Mbeere North sub-county have been insistent Kamba leaders brought in people from Machakos County to settle on the land.
The Ngome elders led by their chairman Eston Ireri say that since the 1969 general election, there was an influx of Kamba population in the area as political leaders pretended to address the issue of ownership.
He said the influx continued to the current unmistakable social pressure and community intolerance which led to numerous courts and administrative complains and litigations.
In spite of the disputes, most of the people residing in Mwea land were born, attended school, married there and view the world from the lens of that land.
They hope to get title deeds to their lands but are uncertain when that will happen.
“We were born in Mwea land and have nowhere else to go. Those evicted from their lands in 1978 did not get a chance to go to formal school. Their livelihood is their land where they have built homes and made developments,” says Ann Mwethya a community leader.
Whereas a section of Embu leaders and residents have demanded a revocation of the demarcation and its repeat, former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka has waded into it and wants a commission of inquiry formed to help find out the real owners of the contested lands and ensure that the land is allocated fairly to the deserving people