All her life, 89-year-old Beatrice Syokau Kathumba, a peasant living just next to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport (JKIA), never courted controversy. But her death has triggered a bitter struggle for her property.
And five years later her body is still in a mortuary in Machakos, waiting to be collected and buried as her descendants battle for the control of land, along Mombasa Road, next to JKIA, which is worth billions of shillings
But finally, Syokau’s daughters, Litha Kathumba and Amina Mbula can heave a sigh of relief after the National Lands Commission (NLC) recommended that they be compensated for part of their land where the airport stands.
The two daughters had waged a spirited battle in court and before the NLC in a bid to regain over 6,000 acres on which East Africa’s busiest airport stands, insisting that it was part of their inheritance.
They were at the same time fighting a group of individuals they accused of disinheriting them after kidnapping their mother and holding her for four years.
The sisters had filed a petition with the NLC, complaining that the land that originally belonged to their father John Kathumba Makuthi had been taken over by JKIA and other claimants who were strangers.
Their stepmother, Syokau who had inherited Kathumba’s estate after his demise in 1989, lost the huge chunk of prime land to some corrupt land officers and powerful individuals who forged ownership documents and caused hers to vanish from government offices.
Bought for 700 cows
Kathumba, who operated some butcher shops in Nairobi, bought the entire piece of land for 700 cows and goats from the estate of a white settler.
In its verdict, published in a special Gazette notice dated February 15, the NLC allowed the family’s claim for the land.
However, although the family was demanding more than half of the land owned by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority (KCAA) where JKIA is situated, they were only granted 50.2 acres.
The commission found that Syokau’s home, which occupied 22.6 hectares, was on the flight path and that there were temporary structures within the land which were untenable.
The NLC’s recommendation read: “The family of the late John Makuthi Kathumba who laid a claim on parcel LR No. 7075/3 within the JKIA land should be compensated on basis of a valid squatter claim on the land.”
In their petition, Litha and Amina had contended the original title of the land issued on July 1, 1917, for a term of 999 years but was later acquired by Laura Ellen Woodley who employed Syokau’s husband Kathumba as her manager.
The two detailed how their family had lost the land through a complex web of fraud and deception, which had climaxed with their mother’s abduction from her home near Cabanas along Mombasa Road.
It later emerged that she had been residing in a rented house in Imara Daima where she had allegedly been taken by people who later claimed that she had granted them power of attorney for assisting her.
Syokau was finally traced four years later after the daughters were tipped that she was admitted at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH) and was critically ill. She died on July 3, 2014.
After her death, the burial permit was allegedly given to the people accused of abducting and causing her death, triggering a row which has delayed her burial for those years.
The structures in her home, which once housed her big herd of livestock, still dot the compound, where there are 54 semi-permanent houses now being rented out by one of the groups entangled in the case.
Sometimes in 1997, Syokau submitted her title deed NA/A5/04/145 under registry map sheet 194 dated July 20, 1997 and thereafter sought approval for subdivision from the Lands Ministry.
She paid for the services on November 4, 2004 but was shocked to discover that part of the land had been registered to a stranger, Peter Ndeti.
The widow then reported the loss of her title deeds for LR numbers 7075/37149/9,463, 4513, 4512, 324, 2903 and 212, vide OB number 37/10/11/016.
NLC’s verdict has also sealed the fate of over 50 local and multinational companies located on the affected land as it has ordered the revocation of their titles.
The commission’s verdict has not however resolved the mystery surrounding Syokau’s disappearance and death which is the subject of an inquest before chief magistrate HM Nyaga at Makandara Law Courts.
The court is set to give its ruling on March 18.
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