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Land feud that has dragged on for decades

By Allan Mungai | October 25th 2018
Karago Ndirangu at home in Kangemi, Nyeri County. His family's succession case is still in court 47 years later. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Karago Ndirangu's father died in 1964. Soon after, a dispute over the sharing out of his property emerged - involving four widows and his siblings.

The tussle between Mr Karago and his step-siblings over the 30-acre parcel in Kangemi, Nyeri County, left by their their father, Ndirangu Wang'ombe, is now in the Court of Appeal after more than 40 years of shuttling between courts. 

Karago said the property feud sprang up despite his father leaving a will, which clearly spelt out how his property should be shared out. 

The dispute, which was lodged in court in 1971 has, expectedly, aggravated feuds in the fractious family.

In 1976, the court ruled that the land should be sub-divided according to the dead man's will. He had wanted one acre hived off and split four ways between each of the families and the remaining 29 acres shared out equally between the families - meaning each family would get seven-and-a-quarter acres.

Calm returned

After the ruling, calm returned to the family before the wrangles bubbled up again in 1981 and the parties trooped back to court.

By this time, Karago said, the land had been sub-divided according to the will and the families had built houses.

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In 2003, Karago's ageing mother was committed to civil jail at the behest of his step-siblings after she failed to raise the fees demanded by their lawyers.

In the time the matter has been in court, his mother and some of the original parties in the suit have died and their descendants have taken over from where they left off.

Karago and two of his brothers - Joseph Wang'ombe and Ibrahim Murira - replaced the mother in the suit. Karago's mother and step-mothers, Theru Ndirangu and Wamuhu Ndirangu, were the ones who went to court in 1971.

Case progresses

As the case progresses, Karago say the justice system has not been fair due to the inordinate long time they have been in court.

But he hopes the Court of Appeal will grant him leave next month to file his appeal out of time and perhaps get the justice he desires so much.

Notably Karago's case is not isolated. There are many succession disputes pending in court.

The Judiciary is striving to clear old cases and has tasked every judge with delivering at least 10 judgements or rulings every month.

In the 2016-2017 Performance Management and Measurement Understandings Evaluation Report, the Judiciary said the delays could be blamed on other parties in the suit.

"It was noted that most civil and succession matters took more than 360 days to be finalised due to delays occasioned by other agencies in the justice chain. This was a major factor impeding the ability of the courts to achieve the set timelines," the report said.

"Courts should therefore devise strategies to address the delays in finalising civil and succession matters including increased engagement with the relevant stakeholders in the justice chain."

Part of the reason why cases take so long to conclude is overly-litigious individuals.

During a visit to the Nyeri Law Courts yesterday, Chief Justice David Maraga said succession cases were bogging down the Judiciary and they were considering handing over the cases to court annex mediators.

“Some of these land disputes, especially those involving close family members, should be referred to court annex mediators. At the end of the day, there is need to achieve harmony in our society,” Mr Maraga said.

Better resolved

Justice Richard Mwongo said succession disputes could be better resolved through mediation.

"The court might give a verdict that is not agreeable but mediation will give them a win-win situation. The parties will sit together and reach a settlement by themselves."

After successful mediation, the outcome will be recorded as an order of the court.

Currently, the CJ said, there are six mediators in Nyeri who are undergoing training as the system is set up.

"By the end of next week, all civil matters filed in the court will be subjected to mandatory screening and if found suitable, will be referred to mediation," he said.

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