The supremacy war pitting Nandi Governor Stephen Sang against former powerful minister Henry Kosgey continued to deepen and has reawakened deep political rivalries that have defined the county’s politics for decades.
Sang, last week unpredictably led residents of Keteng in Nandi Hills, to clear tea bushes from a piece of land in Kibwari estate that had allegedly been grabbed from what was once a communal cattle dip.
The controversial piece of land is associated with the former Cabinet minister who for 30 years represented the area as MP for Tinderet constituency. Sangtrounced Kosgey in the 2017 governor contest, just five years after he also beat him in the 2013 race for the senatorial seat.
Some observers say Sang’s invasion of the tea farm was politically motivated and was meant to spite the Kosgey family. Allan Kosgey, the son of the former powerful minister, is said to be warming up the county’s top seat that has captured local politics. While addressing people in the disputed land a day after Sang had cut the bushes, Allan told residents that the Nandi governor was politicising a matter that was in court.
But in an interview with the Sunday Standard, Sangsaid repossessing of the public land in Kibwari was part of his wider plans to help reclaim more than 30,000 acres under tea being held by multi-national firms in the county.
The Nandi governor, who rode to the top seat on pledges of addressing the land question in the county, has vowed to ‘tackle the emotive debate head on’. He said justice must be the guide on land ownership in the agriculture rich county. “The injustice around land in Nandi County is enormous and emotive, but we must confront it. I am ready to take on the matter without fear of favour,” said Sang.
Emboldened by the National Land Commission (NLC’s) ruling gazetted in March that no renewal of leases should be done without the consent of the county government, the governor on Monday after appearing at the High court in Kisumu vowed to soldier on with his quest. “I will not be cowed,” he said.
A section of local leaders among them six legislators have, however, differed with the governor’s approach, insisting that the issue of the emotive land question ought to be addressed in a more structured and sober manner.
Led by Nandi Senator Samson Cherargei, MPs Julius Meli (Tinderet), Alfred Keter (Nand Hills), Cornelius Serem (Aldai), Vincent Tuwei (Mosop) and Wilson Kogo (Chesumei), the legislators said the governor’s actions were “uncalled for and illegal”.
Cherargei said the drama surrounding the repossessing of the land was a bad example from a leader.
“This is a bad precedent from leaders who are the custodian of the law but are now abusing it and destroying private property,” said Cherargei.
Now, political opinion is divided over Sang’s quest to reclaim land. Philip Chebunet, a communications lecturer at the University of Eldoret, said Sang had has touched a raw nerve by rekindling the pain and controversies surrounding the issue of vast lands dominated by multi-national companies.
Chebunet said the Nandi governor has re-ignited the embers of resistance sparked off by the legendary Kalenjin leader Koitalel Arap Samoei more than century agob when he fought off the colonialists who were forcefully eveicting his people from their lands.
The intermittent fires, Chebunet said, have periodically been lit by some of the regions most controversial leaders like Jean Marie Seroney, Chelagat Mutai and Bishop Alexander Muge only to be extinguished by a state uncomfortable with their demands for justice. Godfrey Sang, a historian and the author of “The Life and Times of Jean-Marie Seroney”, argues that the land issue in Nandi remains unresolved and any politician who comes out to champion it carries with him the asperations of the people.
“Sang had the second Nandi Hills declarion on March 15, 2017, carying the spirit of Seroni’s declaration in 1969. As far as the issues raised are not resolved, the land question will not be wished away,” said the historian. Sang stirred the hornets nest last year when he moved to London and filed a case in a bid to reclaim land which he argues was taken away by the colonial government in the 1930s.
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