Squatters seek Uhuru's help in Portland land row

A police officer restrains a group of demonstrators from entering a Government office in Athi River. [Peterson Githaiga, Standard]

Squatters in Athi River have appealed to President Uhuru Kenyatta to intervene in a land row they are embroiled in with East Africa Portland Cement Company. 

The move by the 14,300 squatters residing in part of the 12,000 acres within Mavoko, Machakos County, came after the cement maker announced intentions to sell some parcels to raise working capital for the cash-strapped company. 

Now the squatters have sought the President's intervention given an imminent forceful evictions.

In the appeal, the squatters are calling on Government to consider selling the land to them. 

Present petition

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Yesterday, the hundreds of squatters held peaceful demonstrations and attempted to present a petition to Athi River Deputy County Commissioner David Juma. They were, however, barred from entering the offices, as it was a weekend. They were, instead, advised to present their grievances today. 

According to the squatters under the Syokimau Mavoko Community Association, Kathama Welfare Association, Mavoko Slums Upgrading Self-help Group, Mathi Association and Masua Self-help Group, their journey to legally own the land dates back to 2010 when the company promised to sell the land to the community but two years later rescinded the decision. 

Having settled on the land since the cement maker exhausted mining activities, the squatters applied for subdivision and development of the land in the hope of purchasing it. 

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Through communal contributions, they have so far managed to put up more than 500 permanent decent houses. 

"We cut the cost of the construction by up to 60 per cent, as there was no cost of labour since members offered their services," reads the appeal, which further notes that the housing initiative supports Uhuru's Big Four agenda on affordable decent housing. 

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On August 22, the company circular on the sale of the land proposed that shareholders surrender 4,256 acres to Government to set up affordable housing projects. 

The squatters claim to have incurred millions worth of losses in demolitions and forceful evictions. 

According to them, selfish tycoons with intentions to grab the land have been behind their woes. 

They claim the company has never been involved in evicting them. 

"The company recognises and acknowledges that we have settled on their land. It has not at any given time harassed us. We have been in constant communication with them," reads the appeal. 

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The squatters have also noted that a fraction of their members sold plots allocated to them to land speculators, while some are yet to develop theirs.

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Athi RiversquattersPresident Uhuru Kenyatta