By Renson Mnyamwezi and Joseph Masha
There was tension at the giant Taita Sisal Estate after Mwatate residents protested against a notice ordering them out of Singila and Majengo villages.
And in Kilifi, members of a co-operative union are planning a demonstration on Tuesday in a bid to repossess a private cashew-nut factory they claim was taken away from them in 1995.
Monday, they clashed with the District Commissioner, Mr Benjamin Wachira, amid warnings by the administrator and the owner, Millennium Development Company. Angry union officials walked out on the DC, to declare themselves the
“official owners” of the Kilifi Cashewnut Factory, which they said they would “return to farmers”.
Led by Ms Fatuma Mwakidudu, the chairman of the Kilifi District Co-operative Union, they vowed to press on despite having been denied permission to hold the demo.
Local farmers and political leaders have stepped up a crusade to repossess the factory — which they say was wrongfully taken from them in 1995 as it sunk under the weight of debts — but the Provincial Administration and its owner have stood their ground.
The farmers and the union claim that the factory’s 300 acres of farmland and plant were underutilised ever since it was sold to the new owner. On June 1, the new Kilifi County Commissioner, Mr Maalim Mohamed, warned farmers against attempts to retake it by force or through incitement against Millenium Development Factory.
But Monday, Mwakidudu and other union officials were finalising plans for on Tuesday’s demonstration, saying a public display of anger was the only way to force the Government to listen to their grievances.
The union officials accused the Government of ignoring their calls for negotiations. The former Kilifi Cashewnut Factory was sold to private investors in 1995 after it was placed in receivership following failure to repay a Sh56 million loan.
Monday in Kilifi, Mr Charanjit Hayer, who chairs the Millenium Development Company board of directors, declared that his firm had legally acquired the plant.
“Proper legal procedures have to be followed if there are any plans to get the factory back to the farmers,” said Mr Hayer.
The DC, Wachira, warned that Millenium Development Factory was a private entity and therefore he would not allow a demonstration.
“I cannot advise you to hold a demonstration because demonstrations have their security problems and the best way to deal with the matter is for you to formally bring the problem to my attention and I will take it up with the District Development Committee for further action,” said Wachira as the union officials stormed out.
But Mwakidudu, who was accompanied by Union official Jasho Bomu and Kilifi District Co-operative Union Manager Harbel Randu, declared that the union had a right to protest the 1995 take-over.
“As a union, we feel we have the right to get it back to the farmers but our efforts have not been heard by the Government,” said Ms Mwakidudu
On the 80,000-acre Teita Sisal Estate saga, regarded as the largest in East and Central Africa, the management of the sisal estate has for years been at loggerheads with local residents over the actual boundary between the villages and sisal investment.
Residents have vowed not to budge, claiming that they were being persecuted.
They were asked to vacate with their livestock, whose number however remained unclear.
“We will not move our livestock out of the disputed area as it belongs to the local community,” said one of the villager’s interviewed by The Standard Monday.
Led by Mr Mnjala Mwaluma, the secretary of the Mwasima Mbuwa Welfare, the more than 3,000 residents accused the sisal management of altering the original boundary separating the farm and the village.
He said tension was high following the arrest of two people for grazing livestock in the disputed area.
“The problem has been compounded by the fact that some Provincial Administration officials are taking sides in the land dispute. We cannot allow the farm management to continue using Administration Police officers to arrest innocent residents on flimsy grounds,” warned Mr Mwaluma.
Mr Aresmus Mwarabu, the chairman of the Taita-Taveta County Council who is also the Mwatate Ward civic leader, said residents would defy the notice issued on May 21 asking them to leave by May 27.
“The area in dispute belongs to the local community and this is one of the historical injustices that we want the Government to urgently address,” warned Cllr Mwarabu.
In a notice copied to the Provincial Administration and obtained by The Standard, the sisal management ordered the residents to move livestock out of Singila and Majengo villages, and threatened stern action against those defying it.
“Whoever will not have moved their animals by May 27 will be required to pay a Sh20 fine per day per animal,” said the notice signed by the Sisal Estate Personnel Manager, Mr Michael Waihenya.
Monday, the Management began implementing the order and arrested two villagers for encroaching on the vast farm.