The vast Mkuki Ranch in Taita Taveta whose lease expired in 2020 is county government land until its status is determined, the National Land Commission (NLC) has declared.
NLC's county coordinator Sylvester Osodo said those purporting to have taken over the 5,000-acre ranch are wasting their time as the disputed land will revert to the county government to hold in trust for the local community.
Osodo's disclosure came after area governor Granton Samboja claimed a group of powerful individuals, including two MPs, have taken over the ranch after its lease expired
He said it is not easy to take over the land whose leases have expired.
“It is a lengthy process which must involve the county and national governments before the status of such land is determined,” said the NLC official.
Osodo said the person who owned the land before as well as the right to seek for extension of the lease.
Samboja has accused MPs Andrew Mwadime (Mwatate) and Jones Mlolwa (Voi), and the chairman of the Taita-Taveta Ranchers Association (TTRA) Donald Bongosa Mcharo as being in a group of 14 prominent people who are trying to take over the land.
Both Mlolwa and Bongosa dissociated themselves from the said takeover of the ranch.
However, Mwadime confirmed that he registered a Community-Based Organization (CBO) to wrestle the land from powerful individuals and well-connected herders from outside the region, whose aim, he said, was to displace residents from their ancestral land.
“I decided to register the group to safeguard the land from grabbers from outside our region who are struggling to take it over. My aim is not to grab the land as claimed by the governor but to stop outsiders from displacing locals from their ancestral land,” stated the ODM legislator who spoke in Mwatate town on Monday.
Mlolwa and Mcharo denied the governor's claims that they were part of the group that had grabbed the land.
Mlolwa however said he had been approached to be a shareholder in the disputed land because its lease had expired.
“I bought shares because we were trying to protect the land from being grabbed by non-residents. I later resigned from the company. I was a registered shareholder but I am no longer there now,” said Mlolwa.
Mcharo, who is one of the prominent ranchers in the region, said he was not a member of the ranch.
“I do not know why my name appeared in the list of members of the ranch. The ranch is not even registered with the TTRA. I have never associated myself with the ranch,” said the rancher
Samboja has vowed to block the renewal of the lease for the ranch and will push to have residents allocated the land if re-elected in the August 9 polls.
“Unless I am voted out in the August polls, I will continue fighting to revert the land, rich in agriculture and mining, back to the local community,” said the governor who spoke at Manoa trading centre in Mwatate sub-county when he issued over 1500 title deeds to the squatters living in Mwachabo settlement scheme.
He added: “You know the leaders who want to deprive you of your land rights. The land belongs to you and I will not allow a few individuals to take over the Mkuki ranch land, which belongs to you.”
Samboja said his administration had earlier petitioned the Ministry of Lands and the NLC not to renew the land lease.
“We have opposed the lease extension through an application to the Ministry of Lands and the NLC. The county assembly also resolved that the disputed land be returned to the county government in trust for the local community,” he stated.
“We have petitioned the National Government that the LR No 12922 land in dispute be held by the county government in trust for the people. Our decision is based on the assembly resolutions in 2021,” he said.
Records seen by The Standard show that the 14 members who now claim to be owners of the newly registered Mkuki Ranch Limited have a total of 66 shares including the family of the former landowner, the late Brigadier Cromwel Mkungusi who acquired the land in 1975.