Politicians, rogue traders eye prime Delmonte land amid disputes

Del Monte land. The government plans to establish an Export Processing Zone on the land. [File, Standard]

The ceding of portions of land by Del Monte food processing company to Kiambu and Murang’a counties has whetted the appetites of politicians and unscrupulous traders who are salivating at the prime land along the busy Thika-Murang’a road.

Land and its ownership have always been an emotive issue in the Mt Kenya region where many murder incidents are associated with wrangles revolving around it; ownership and succession.

Given that the Del Monte land neighbours the controversial Kihiu Mwiri land-buying company whose leadership wrangles led to the deaths of 10 directors and the disappearance of others, the government has been urged to take control of the situation.

With the availability of land, President William Ruto’s administration lined up its flagship project priority; the Export Processing Zones (EPZ) to be established on the land.

The project is part of the President’s effort to accelerate investment by growing manufacturing and exports, creating jobs, and achieving inclusive growth.

“In this regard, the Cabinet welcomed the approval by the Pan African financial institution (AFREXIM Bank) for debt-free, 100 per cent equity investments of Sh420 billion in Special Economic Zones,” the President said at a cabinet meeting in Sagana State Lodge two months ago.

 Other than the Delmonte land, the only other project in Mt Kenya region is in Sagana and Naivasha while others will be in Isiolo, Eldoret, and Busia counties.

Murang’a Governor Irungu Kang’ata had intended to establish a level four hospital on the land but the plans were put on hold even after initiating the public participation due to the stakes in the land.

Other than the Level-5 hospital, the devolved unit had intended to use the land to construct an industrial and the County Aggregation Park.

But due to high-octane local politics and the desire to subdivide land for individual use, the Murang’a flagship projects, despite the President calling for court settlement in a case pitting the National Land Commission and Kandara Residents Association, the Murang’a project is yet to be gazetted.

The Association has been engaged in a protracted legal battle with the two counties and the Delmonte demanding 7,000 acres which they claim was taken away by force from their forefathers.

The National Land Commission (NLC) had directed that before the Delmonte company land lease was renewed, it needed to cede land on the ratio of 70:30 between counties and members of the Association respectively. The matter is now under the Court of Appeal.

Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria, in an interview with The Saturday Standard over the matter, expressed concerns that despite the presidential directive, the high stakes involving the land between local leaders, associations, unscrupulous traders, and the counties threatened the flagship project.

“The land and funds are available but the local politics engineered by greed is delaying the operationalisation of the project. I fear that the monies may be allocated to other areas in the country due to selfishness,” Kuria said.

He added, “While I fear that the local intrigues may lead to controversy just like Kihiu Mwiri, I ask the leaders to allow us to use land for development and continue fighting.”

In June this year, Kuria summoned Murang’a leaders led by Governor Kang’ata and members of the Kandara Residents Association but its leadership led by the Association Secretary General Geoffrey Kairu disowned the meeting and its deliberations.

The meeting had concluded that a technical committee would be established to help resolve the dispute out of court to allow the 1,400 acres ceded by the company to the county government two years ago utilised for developmental purposes.

In the interview with The Standard, Kairu maintained that even though they are ready to withdraw the court case, they can’t do so unilaterally and through a kangaroo court.

“We must have a binding agreement that will be deposited in court detailing how our members will get justice after years of struggle. We are completely opposed to the idea of utilising the available land while throwing us under the bus,” he said.

He maintains that the 1,400 acres ceded by the Delmonte company was in the ratio of 30 per cent and maintained that before the county or the national government utilises it, the company must be pushed to cede the 70 per cent remaining.

Governor Kangata on his part, said despite its intended plan over the use of the land, he was optimistic that by the National Government taking over the matter, the move will not only support the creation of jobs but also support the devolved unit in establishing the hospital.

By acknowledging the fact that residents have been conned by being promised land and in exchange giving out cash, the governor said the issue was being investigated by the national government.

Senator Joe Nyutu, also expressed concerns that unsuspecting and innocent locals were being conned money with people claiming to be in a position to subdivide the Delmonte land.

“I tell my people whenever I have a chance that the Delmonte land is not available for sub-division while we support the National Government’s projects we must also ensure that the Association gets its fair share of land,” Nyutu said.

While demonstrating the extent of the volatility of the Delmonte land, Nyutu said it was the main cause that cost his Murang’a Speakership ambitions.

“There were some people who felt I could block their plans to allocate themselves private land and as a result used millions of money to block his bid.”

He said the land will be a major factor in 2027 parliamentary seats in Thika Town, Kandara, and Gatanga constituencies.

In 2019, the Delmonte company ceded 695 acres to the Kiambu county. The land is now at the centre of the local politics.

Governor Kimani Wamatangi plans to establish a smart industrial city on the land while at the same time agitating to have the EPZ project established in the county owing to the differences among the local leaders.

But the governor has dragged the Delmonte land saga into his political woes, maintaining that the cartels have teamed up with some elected leaders to plot his downfall.