Conflict deepens between county and Chuka University over land usage

The county wants to establish a special economic zone on the land. [Phares Mutembei, Standard]

Conflict is brewing between Tharaka Nithi County government and Chuka University after the formerly expressed interest in 100 acres held by the varsity.

Governor Muthomi Njuki had on different occasions at Kathwana, and Chuka said the county was keen to create a special economic zone by putting up an agricultural value-addition facility.

Njuki said with 90 per cent of the county population relying on agriculture, and hence, there was a need to establish a special economic zone for aggregation and value addition.

However, the plan is facing resistance from the university, which maintains it had a master plan on how it is using its 500 acres at Kairini, where Njuki wants to get the 100 acres.

Njuki said President William Ruto was giving every county government a grant of Sh100 million in the next budget to establish a special economic zone that would provide a market and value addition for different agricultural products.

He announced plans to take the 100 acres during his thanksgiving prayers at Kathwana and during President Ruto's thanksgiving prayers at Chuka recently.

"We promise as Tharaka Nithi, on behalf of these people, we will also give a matching Sh100m so that we can be able to build a special economic zone in Tharaka Nithi," said the Governor.

Njuki had expressed hope that his plan would not attract resistance.

But the university maintains it has a master plan on the usage of the land and the proposed hiving of the 100 acres would affect it.

Although a section of the staff openly resisted the proposal, a source that requested anonymity said the county government should look for alternative land, as there were huge parcels of idle public land.

Out of the 500-acre Kairini Farm, the varsity plans to build a referral hospital on 300 acres in partnership with some donors.

It had also fenced another 100 acres where it wants to establish a private wildlife sanctuary.

Another 100 acres serve as a demonstration farm and host various amenities, including a 15 million litre dam.

The University Academic Staff Union (UASU) members, led by Chairperson Dr Alice Linani and Secretary Moses Mutandi, opposed Njuki's plan to take the land, terming it an illegal, forceful move which threatens the institution's expansion and research plans.

"In 2017, the university developed a master plan outlining how the land was to be utilised, and it has been implementing the plan. The 500-acre Kairini Farm has been revamped and restructured as an income generating unit, utilizing large-scale livestock keeping, bee farming, and economic farming activities for banana, avocado and mango plantation shutters," UASU said in a statement read by Dr Linani.

They added: "A Level Two hospital is currently in place at the Kairini farm, which the university intends to expand into a referral hospital on 300 acres of land to support and improve healthcare and create employment for residents".

Linani said the proposed encroachment of the university land by the county government was seen as a threat to the advancement of education and the creation of employment opportunities in the area.

"As unions and Chuka University, we maintain that this land was set aside for education purposes and should be protected. The Kairini master plan is in execution, and the land question is fully utilised. As unions, we remain united to guard this university," Mutindi said.