At the expansive Kapiti Plains ranch in Machakos County, strange happenings are unfolding under the heedless eye of the authorities.
Fanned by brokers, locals are trooping into the 13,000-hectare ranch owned by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and laying an odd claim to it.
Our arrival to the ranch last week unfurled sights of queues as land-thirsty people bought “shares” while many more congregated on the sides on a sensitisation meeting on why it was important for them to pay for their shares.
Locked in his car with a window rolled down, one of the directors of the local land company laying claim to the land on ancestral grounds cashed in on the moneys. Besides his car, stood a makeshift church from where a pastor bellowed Psalms to a small congregation sitting on the floor. With a church erect, the tale of shares is more believable.
A few metres from the road stood permanent brick houses awaiting roofing. From our vantage point in the sprawling ranch, there are numerous demarcations indicative of fresh acquisitions.
“We applied to get our land back. And it’s not the entire ranch but just a section of it to be subdivided to our 33,000 members who are squatters,” Harrison Muli, one of the members of Makonza Society involved in the redistribution, told Sunday Standard.
He also claimed the land had been idle for long to the frustration of the locals. The claims are refuted strongly by ILRI, which cites helplessness in trying to rout out illegal squatters on their land.
“The government welcomed the research institute here back in 1974 before permanently buying the Kapiti plains ranch in 1987. We have done a lot for Africa and the world in terms of vaccines development, genetic variation, capacity building for universities among others,” ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith says.
Smith is frustrated that the authorities have been unable to ward off the fraudsters leading the take-over of the land. He says the invasion has been treated lightly and that the activities of squatters are threatening their research as well as the security of ILRI’s 80 workers.
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The ranch also has 2,500 cattle, mainly Boran-Fresian crossbreeds, 1,200 sheep, and 250 Golla native goats.
Smith’s deputy in chage of General-Bio Sciences, Dr Dieter Schillinger, said they were in the final stages of the malignant catarrhal fever vaccination when major disruptions at the ranch ensued.
When Sunday Standard visited, the livestock had moved to the edge of the ranch and away from intense human activities. Schillinger cautioned Kenyans not to be swindled by fraudsters who have been profiling the Kamba community on racial grounds, pressing them to claim on an alleged “ancestral land”.
Both area OCPD and ILRI Director General accused the media of siding with the swindlers in using the airwaves to spread false information and misinforming.
Dr Romano Kiome, the programme manager, says it was a privilege for Kenya to have the ILRI world headquarters and nothing should be allowed to jeopardize the integrity of the institution.
As the events unfold in Kapiti, officials of the National Lands Commission (NLC) appear oblivious to the goings on from the Ardhi House towers. Muhammed Swazuri, the NLC chair, refuted claims of receiving any letter from either of the two societies involved in the redistribution of the ILRI land.
“I’m not aware. The only matters of that sort that we have handled in that region are Kenya Portland Company land and another in Katani. We will take the matter up and verify the basis of their claims,” Swazuri said.
He however said the trend of brokers distributing “idle” lands was not new to him.
The ranch is located south of Nairobi just past Machakos junction. It was acquired in 1987 by the International Laboratory for Research on Animal Diseases, the predecessor to ILRI.
It was meant for livestock research purposes.