Chaos and protests in Coast land invasions

Invasion of private land at the Coast has reached new heights after squatters started claiming over 11,000 acres of Vipingo Estate in Kilifi, which was recently sold to Centum.

The demonstrators led by Kilifi Senator Stewart Madzayo accused some area leaders of transferring their ancestral land without involving them.

The claim came hours after 4,500 squatters invaded another privately owned piece of land, which used to belong to Kilifi Cashew Nuts factory that folded in the 1990s. They claimed the factory stood on their ancestral land and should not have been sold when it collapsed.

Mkoroshoni squatters organising secretary Hamisi Ali addressing the media at Kilifi Town yesterday. Invasion of private land at the Coast has reached new heights after squatters started claiming over 11,000 acres of Vipingo Estate in Kilifi, which was recently sold to Centum. (PHOTO: JOSEPH MASHA/ STANDARD)

A new wave of invasions of privately owned land whose leases are about to expire has hit Coast, causing concern among investors.

Over the weekend, two land disputes erupted in Kilifi County.

On Sunday, squatters invaded 150 acres belonging to the defunct Kilifi Cashewnut Factory.

And elsewhere, locals demonstrated yesterday against the sale of 11,750 acres by Vipingo Sisal Estate. The locals led by Kilifi Senator Stewart Madzayo, a retired judge, were demonstrating against the sale of the sisal estate by REA Vipingo Plantations to Centum Limited, a public listed company. They accused some leaders from the area of colluding to transfer the land early last year without their participation.

The Kilifi Cashewnut Factory collapsed in the early 1990s and its assets were later sold to a private investor to recoup a loan. It was sold to Millenium Investment Limited after the defunct firm failed to repay a loan to a bank.

The invading squatters were led by their chairman Katana Kazungu and Organising Secretary Hamisi Ali, who were promptly arrested.

The squatters later regrouped and marched to Kilifi Police Station to demand release of their leaders. The two were released after paying a cash bail of Sh10,000 each. They also recorded statements at the police station and are awaiting to be charged in court.

Kilifi County Police Commander David Kerina said: “Our officers moved to Mkoroshoni and arrested two people said to have mobilised the more than 4,500 residents to invade a private land belonging to Millennium Investment Limited.”

“We released them on cash bail of Sh10,000 each and are awaiting their date in court,” added  Kerina. He added police would not allow squatters to occupy private property. Kilifi County Commissioner Joseph Keter also condemned the invasion.

 Ancestral property

The squatters, however, said they considered the land their ancestral property and claimed it should not have been sold to a private party after the collapse of the factory.

And on the sale of Vipingo, the residents claimed it was their ancestral land, noting they  should have been consulted. They also want to be compensated, saying proposed developments by Centum will displace and impoverish them.

But Centum has denied it is occupying any land as claimed by the squatters. It has instead pledged to create economic opportunities for them.

In May last year, shareholders of REA Vipingo Plantations Ltd approved sale of the firm’s land at Vipingo to Centum Investments Company as agreed in the settlement with REA Trading Limited.

The transaction was approved at an extraordinary general meeting held at a Nairobi hotel that paved way for the conclusion of the buyout by REA Trading, which already holds 57 per cent of the sisal grower.

REA Vipingo Chairman Oliver Fowler was quoted saying  shareholders had taken a decision on the matter and what now remains is for each individual shareholder to decide on the offer that has been put on the table by REA Trading.

The sale approval came weeks after REA Trading entered a negotiated settlement with Centum Investment Company Limited that had made a rival bid for REA Vipingo. REA Trading Limited offered to buy all the ordinary shares that it did not already own at the price of Sh70 per share, plus an additional cash top-up of Sh15 per share that it has decided it will  pay immediately after the offer closes.

“The offer will help facilitate diversification of the REA Vipingo business, which may require taking on greater financial risks than it has hitherto done,” REA Vipingo Plantations CEO Neil Cuthbert was quoted saying by The Standard on May 2 last year.

But according to minutes between Centum and representatives of residents on April 5 in Nairobi, the company said: “Centum did not purchase any of the parcels that the community has been pursuing with Vipingo Estates Limited and the National Land Commission.”

In the minutes, an official gave assurances that Centum “will not displace villagers staying within the purchased land and will instead assist in raising the standards of living of the villagers by giving them priority in securing jobs and other opportunities.”