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Inside Nairobi firm’s bloody fight for control of Sh17b land

REAL ESTATE
By Dominic Omondi | August 19th 2021

Court documents reveal that the company was seeking control of land amid sharp divisions in its leadership. [Courtesy]

On the evening of April 2, 2005, Stephen Mugo, the chair of Kiambu Dandora Farmers Company Ltd, was shot dead in Kibra.

The killer is said to have ordered Mugo out of his car at gunpoint. When Mugo emerged, the gunman held him by the coat and asked him in Kiswahili: “Why are you disturbing us? “ 

Mugo, witnesses recalled, fearlessly replied in the same language: “Do what you came to do”. It is then that the man shot Mugo in the head and threw him down.

It was a classic example of how, to paraphrase Russian-born American researcher and writer Ariel Durant, a great civilisation destroys itself from within before it is conquered from without.

In addition to a vicious fight with homeowners and investors over ownership of some 818 acres in Eastlands, Nairobi, members of the land-buying outfit with offices in Kayole Estate were also at war among themselves.

Court documents reveal that the company was seeking control of land covering Umoja 1 and Umoja 2 estates, Komarock, Kariobangi Civil Servants quarters, Kariobangi Light Industries, Steel Structures, Coca Cola, New KCC, Emco Sweets, Mama Lucy Hospital Estate and Nasra Estate - amid sharp divisions in its leadership.

An aerial view of Kariobangi, Nairobi. [File, Standard]

Mugo’s son told the court that his father had earlier intimated to him that he was facing rebellion in the land-buying company. The rebellion was so bad that there were two factions, one led by Mugo’s side and the other by the leadership of the same company.

The judge agreed that the wrangle was the main motive behind Mugo’s killing. At some point, Mugo reported to the police that his life was in danger, which led to eight directors of the company being arrested. They were later released without being charged.

The murder of Mugo, said one of the witnesses, was discussed in a meeting attended by eight ‘elders.’ His crime was selling parcels of land without the knowledge of the members.

According to the witness, who described himself as a hawker, the meeting concluded that Mugo was to be prevailed upon to relinquish his chair’s position, failure to which he would be killed.

But it is the fight for the control of this swathe of land that is twice the size of the principality of Monaco in Europe, that has defined the outfit, with the courts admonishing it for its extra-judicial activities.

Its antagonists have accused it of engaging in an orgy of violence, spreading fear, destroying property and at times, with the blessings of law enforcement agencies. Some of its critics have come short of describing it as a criminal outfit.

The Kiambu Dandora Farmers outfit, which describes itself as an auctioneering company, denied that it is a criminal outfit. Apparently, the land the company lays claim to is encumbered with various individuals and companies laying claim to it.

Kiambu Dandora Farmers Company claims it bought the land in 1966 from Khan Nawaz Abbas and Mehdi Khan. The trustees of the company told the court that they paid the Khans for the 818 acres and obtained the title on April 8, 1970.

Five of its members were appointed as trustees to hold its title pending incorporation of the group. After the incorporation, but before the land could be transferred to the trustees, the company was sued in 1972, by another firm known as Dandora Housing Company, which also claimed ownership of the land.

The case was decided in favour of the Kiambu-based company in 1983. [Courtesy]

The case was decided in favour of the Kiambu-based company in 1983. But as the legal tussle between the two companies raged on, the government, in 1974, is alleged to have compulsorily acquired this land.

The compensation is reported to have been deposited in the High Court due to the dispute between Kiambu Dandora Farmers Company and Dandora Housing Scheme Ltd. 

However, a director of the Kiambu Dandora Farmers Company, Abdillahi Mwigai, told the court the compulsory acquisition of the land failed and the members of the company have never been compensated.

In February last year, the trustees of Kiambu Dandora Farmers started giving evidence in a case where they are seeking more than Sh17 billion from the government and individuals for the land.

The company has sued the Attorney General and the National Land Commission.

The company’s knack for violence was, however, admonished by the court in a ruling in which it was restrained from trespassing into the premises belonging to Emco Billets and Steel Ltd.

“This court cannot lend its aid to acts of lawlessness. I am satisfied that the plaintiff has established a prima facie case of trespass against the defendant,” said Environment and Land Court judge Samson Okong’o on July 1, 2016.

“I am also satisfied from the material before me that the plaintiff would suffer irreparable harm which cannot be compensated for in damages if the injunction sought is not granted.” 

The judge noted that there had been no court ruling declaring Emco’s title deed illegal and such revocation could only be done through due process.

“Until the said title is declared null and void through a legal process, it remains valid for all intents and purposes and unless there are exceptional circumstances that would sway the court such as public interest, the title is entitled to the protection of the law,” Justice Okong’o said.

Court issued restraining orders against the company on June 17, 2019. [Courtesy]

This was not the only time that Kiambu Dandora Farmers Company was in the spotlight for disobeying court orders.

On June 17, 2019, the court issued restraining orders against the company for trespassing into eight parcels belonging to U-Haul Vehicle Ltd.

Despite the orders, construction activities continued on the disputed property, which Kiambu Dandora Farmers said was part of the 818 acres they owned.

The directors of Kiambu Dandora, while pleading their innocence, argued that the plaintiff had not proven that they were contemptuous of the court order.

“The first defendant, who claims that the suit properties form part of its parcel of land, cannot convince this court that it is not aware of the persons who have invaded the suit properties and are carrying out construction of permanent buildings thereon,” said Okong’o.

“I believe that the first defendant is aware of the trespassers but the disclosure of their identities would not serve its interest in the suit properties.”

Other litigants say that in 2009, Kiambu Dandora Farmers was allocated land adjacent to Mama Lucy Kibaki Hospital, which they have since sub-divided and sold to different parties. This is said to have formed what is presently known as Nasra Estate.

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