The national government is exploring the possibility of establishing a permanent military training camp in Taita Taveta County, a military official has announced.
However, the decision by the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) to acquire more land in the region has raised questions and concerns around the establishment of the camp.
Some ranchers have claimed that KDF’s bid for more than 24,000 acres to actualise the permanent project would displace residents from their rightful land, and disrupt ranching and mining activities in local farms.
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In 1980, the military established a temporary training camp in the region and has used it to induct new recruits. Now, however, the chairman of the military land adhoc committee, Major General (Rtd) Morris Oyugi, said KDF wants to establish a permanent camp on the land they have been using over the past two decades.
“We have been training our officers in the region. We now require more land for the military training camp,” he said.
The retired military officer met local ranchers at a closed door meeting at the Taita Taveta County governor’s offices in Mwatate town where he presented the proposal for the establishment of the camp.
But the ranchers were sceptical about the project proposal, saying KDF already holds enough land in the county. “KDF has land in the Taita ranch where it has been conducting its military training. It also has an additional 3,000 acres at Kuranze at the Kenya-Tanzania border in Kasigau location. Why additional land again?” asked Bongosa Mcharo, the chairman of the Taita Taveta Ranchers Association.
“There are things which are not good. We will not allow our locals to be evicted from their ancestral land.”
Another rancher who identified himself as Kitololo claimed the military wants to take over two local ranches, besides disrupting mining activities that provide incomes for the local community.
“We have agreed with KDF to meet again after consulting with shareholders of the ranches. We will meet with them later to either agree or disagree with their proposal,” said the rancher.
Oyugi confirmed they had given the ranchers their proposal, and discussions on the issue are still going on
“We have not concluded the negotiations with the ranchers. We require expanded land for training purposes. We have been training and inducting new military groups here since 1980. We want to get the land officially to establish a permanent military training facility,” he said after the meeting on Tuesday. “We are yet to agree on the modalities of establishing the training facility, and we have to put it in law. Our agenda is to train military personnel to effectively secure the country.”
Oyugi was accompanied by County Land Executive Mwandawiro Mganga and County Secretary Liverson Mghendi.
Mghanga said the county government fully supports the project.
“We are supporting KDF in principle,” he said.
The finer details of KDF’s decision to establish a permanent training base in Taita Taveta have not been made available, and it is unclear what geopolitics is involved.
Once set up, it would be the southernmost permanent military installation along Kenya’s border with Tanzania, which has various military training facilities on the border with Kenya in Arusha and Tanga.