Long wait for justice: Isahakia community continues to suffer as it awaits resettlement

Members of the Isahakia community in Naivasha protest on a parcel of land that they claim ownership and which has been fenced off by KWS officers. [Courtesy]

Naivasha has been dubbed the next hub of business, thanks to several upcoming capital projects in and around the lakeside town.

The major projects include the Industrial Park in Mai Mahiu, which is served by Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), the Inland Container Depot and the multi-billion-shilling Rironi-Mau Summit expressway.

This has led to a scramble of land around the area even as more investors and the county government moved in to seek more space for affordable housing.

And with the rise in demand for land, several land disputes have emerged, leaving many dead, hundreds maimed and property destroyed.

Incidentally, many Naivasha residents, especially those living around the town, do not have title deeds and are living on Temporary Occupation Licences (TLO), further compounding the situation.

Public organisations have not been spared the disputes either, with details now emerging that majority of them do not have title deeds, a matter that the county government is addressing through the ongoing tilting programme.

One dispute, however, sticks out like a sore thumb.

The dispute, which dates back to the colonial period, involves over 5,000 members of the Isahakia community, who were the first settlers in Naivasha, various government institutions and individuals.

Theirs is a story of painful memories, unfulfilled promises and wishful thinking. Many have died while awaiting justice.

To historians, theirs is a rich history dating back to the mid-1800s when they first arrived.

This was the group that brought the first Delamere family on foot all the way from Somaliland to the current Norfork Hotel, in the 1860s.

Acting as porters and security guards, many were mauled by wild animals along the way as they brought in Hugh Cholmondeley, the third Baron Delamere.

The porters from the Isahakia community who brought Delamere would later settle in the country, unable to go back to their home.

According to Ahmed Ali Farah, the Isahakia community chairman and a fourth-generation member, the arrival marked the beginning of their suffering.

The Isahakia community which clashed with KWS officers claims to have received the prime land located off the Nairobi-Nakuru highway from National Land Commission. [Courtesy]

He says theirs has been a life full of suffering and regrets.

According to ageing members, the community settled here in the late 1800s with a huge number going to Naivasha.

“Other members settled at Princess Elizabeth Park which is the current Embakasi but were moved by the colonial government,” he recalls, having learned this from the history handed over from generation to generation.

Farah says that others moved to Isiolo and other towns where the popular term ‘Kambi Somali’ was coined in relation to their homes.

After years of living in Naivasha, the colonial government attacked the community in 1952 for working with the Mau Mau.

Animal auction

“Our fathers were accused of assisting the Mau Mau to escape from the then Naivasha prison,” Ali says.

As punishment, the British moved ahead and sold all their dairy cattle for Sh3 per animal in an auction. Farah says the community’s suffering did not end there despite the coming in of a new government under Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

In 1972, the Kenyatta administration attacked them for being shiftas and destroyed all their houses, leaving around 5,000 people homeless.

“Many of us were used as free labour to construct the current Naivasha GK Prison and Naivasha Boarding Primary School, which was constructed on part of our land,” he says with a distant look.

And from then on, things have been getting worse for the community with doors slammed on their faces, their calls and pleas ignored.

The Delamere family that the Isahakia brought into the country boasts of huge tracts of land spanning from Naivasha to Nakuru.

But for the peasants who toiled and suffered, they have been left to live a life full of misery as they seek justice.

An emotional Ali says that tens of the community members are dying every year as they continue to wait to be resettled by the State.

“Officials from the National Land Commission have on various occasions moved in to survey our ancestral land but we are yet to hear from them,” he says.

Ali adds that the community has agreed to hand over sections of the land to the prisons and Dairy Training Institute (DTI) with the promise that they will be resettled.

Influential people

“Our forefathers arrived in the country back in 1867 and to date, we have not been resettled as influential people continue to grab our land,” he says.

Currently, a majority of the community live in the low-cost KCC village commonly associated with illicit brew and crime.

“The Kenyan government has recognised us but that is all we have received,” says the bitter chairman.

In 1926, they were awarded 15,000 acres by the Legislative council (Legco), a few years after Lord Delamere had received his share.

According to him, the land stretches from Karati to River Malewa through Naivasha town, to what is currently Banda estate at the shores of Lake Naivasha.

“All we are asking is for the government to keep its promise and resettle us and end our suffering once and for all,” he says.

One of the women leaders, Sarah Ishamael narrates how President Uhuru Kenyatta directed the late PS for Land, Mariam El-Maawy, three years ago, to facilitate their resettlement.

She notes that this has not been fulfilled, and has led to their suffering as tens of acres that they received from the colonial government continue to be grabbed.

“We are asking the president to intervene as we feel there are some people in NLC who are opposed to our resettlement,” she says.

Ishamael adds that they are tired of waiting as NLC takes them in circles whenever they visit their offices demanding justice.

A youth leader, Ali Mohammed, notes that several relatives have passed on as they chased the elusive justice, leaving their children to follow up on the issue.

He terms land as a sensitive and emotive issue, adding that they are ready to seek a peaceful solution with NLC on the land earmarked for their resettlement.

“We have colonial documents proving that these parcels of land belong to our great grandparents and we are wondering who has issued the ownership documents to the current owners,” he says.

But most of land that they claim ownership to is currently under government institutions or inhabited by locals.

Among the institutions that have allegedly taken over the land are Naivasha prison, the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation (Kalro) and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

The community has been involved in a protracted court dispute since 2011 that is yet to be resolved.

There was hope for the community two years ago after NLC issued a notice to all persons that have invaded the community ancestral land to vacate.

In a letter signed by the former NLC chairman Mohammad Swazuri, the Nakuru county commissioner was called to stop any sub-division on the parcels of land.

“This is to ask you and your office to stop any sub-divisions of the Isahakia ancestral land and evict all occupants until our efforts resume,” reads the letter in part.

Swazuri noted that the community had written to the commission complaining over the invasion of the land (L/R144/R LR No. 11517) by unknown people.

In another letter, the commission had written to Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui seeking that his government allocate another parcel of land near Mithuri estate to the community.

“The community should be allocated the parcel of land after the county has taken interest in the slaughterhouse, Mithuri squatters and the Naivasha GK prison,” read the letter in part.

Speaking recently during a tour of Naivasha, NLC commissioner Esther Murugi, expressed her concern over increased cases of encroachment of public land and pointed to Kalro as one of the affected government institutions.

She at the same time said that they were working closely with the county government to resettle the Isahakia, one of the oldest communities in Naivasha.

“We shall make sure that we repossess all the grabbed land in Naivasha as we give justice to the Isahakia community that has suffered for long,” she said.

But according to Kalro, it had lost millions of shillings since members of the community encroached on its land.

Prominent personalities

The organisation notes that only 48 per cent of its land is being used for research, adding that the rest has been taken away by prominent personalities in the town.

According to a senior official who declined to be named, the land is crucial in their business, surrounding research in the livestock department.

“We have run into losses amounting to millions of shillings and we are in the process of evaluating the exact amount lost as we move back to the land,” he said.

Naivasha sub-county commissioner Mutua Kisulu admits that increasing cases of land disputes are worrying, adding that his office dealing with the cases on a daily basis.

He says that the majority of the cases involve double allocation, lack of ownership and ancestral land disputes like in the case of Isahakia.

“Literally every corner of Naivasha has a pending land dispute and this has been worsened by courts’ failure to resolve them,” he says.

Naivasha MP Jane Kihara admits that title deeds are a major challenge, adding that land disputes are the norm in the lakeside town.

“The town is expanding, meaning a demand for more houses and the county wants to construct various amenities leading to scramble of land,” she says.

She says that her office is handling several land cases, adding that they are working with NLC to address the impasse.

Another notorious part of the constituency where the issue of land has become a thorn in the flesh is Mai Mahiu with Utheri wa Lari and Nyakinyua farm being the major ones.

In Maiella, the ownership and subdivision of the vast Ng’ati farm remains a thorn in the flesh, with violent clashes erupting now and then.

In Gilgil, squatters have invaded the 3,000 acres of Lari Nyakinyua farm in Oljorai and vowed that they will not budge until the government relocates them.