Families turn ancestral farming land in Kisii into trading centres

Nearly all the ancestral land in Gusii region has been bolted up in the space of two generations and the future peers may have nothing to inherit. [Erick Abuga, Standard]

With sub-divisions conducted by more than two generations, children born today may have nothing to inherit from the ancestral land in Gusii region.

Today, a typical farm consists of a long strip of land running down to the stream, which includes several homesteads stuck in parcels measuring less than 50 by 100 square feet.

The initially large coffee and other cash crop plantations have turned into commercial housing spaces.

This has seen private developers move deep into the village to put up rental houses as demand rises, pushing families to shopping centres and towns.

Parents yet to subdivide family land are in a frenzy to sell their property as they battle for little portions of land left.

Some lucky sons who had opportunity to get a portion of the family land as an inheritance, have also put their shares on sale, with some social media groups and pages turning awash with ‘Plots for sale’ adverts.

Intermeddling has become order of the day, pitting families against prospective land buyers.

Despite their age, most parents, especially fathers, are selling family land, leaving their offspring in deprived settings.

A court ruling in March 2023 by the Lands Court Judge Munyao Sila seems to have given parents an upper hand on managing ancestral family land.

While reviewing a case where two children had accused their father of selling their “ancestral land”, Justice Munyao asserted that it is time children stopped having the notion that what belongs to their parents is theirs as well.

Title deeds

While the children affirmed that their father was the registered proprietor of the land, they argued that he only held the title deed in their trust as the property was ancestral and could not sell it.

But Judge Munyao affirmed that there is no law cited supporting the contention that children have a right to compel their parents to consult them when dealing with land.

He noted: “In fact, it is despicable, if not outrageous, for a child to assert that his father or mother must subdivide his land in a particular way, and proceed to sue his parent because he/she does not wish to deal with the land in the way proposed by the child.”

Most land buyers are entangled in succession and in interstate wars. Most parents in the region sell land secretly, leaving out their children.

Soon after the death of parents, some private developers find themselves entwined in unending court cases; some end up losing such property for lack of proper documentation.

Retirement home

In Borabu Settlement Scheme in Nyamira County, where most families lack title deeds, Peter Ondimu spent a good portion of his retirement benefits to buy a one-and-a-half-acre piece of land in Mwongori in 2014 at Sh1.4 million, a place he intended to put up his retirement home.

“I was offered a forged title deed, but the initial search showed it was legit. My frequent searches at the Nyamira lands office got me shocked; the file was missing. I realised I had been duped,” he said.

Ondimu had bought the land from a family that had not undergone succession. The seller died in 2016, a few months after the buyer had flown out of the country. “I relocated to US. I couldn’t take it because I had lost almost my entire pension. I chose not to proceed to court because this could have taken years,” he recalled.

Jane Kemunto, a private physical planner, said farming in the area will soon be history.

“We are staring at a situation where families want to put up houses in every corner deep in the villages. One flying over Kisii and Nyamira could think that we have another slum in Kenya called Kisii. It is unfortunate that our leaders are not willing to talk about the issue of land subdivision.”