Governor should not get away with destroying private property

Nandi Governor Stephen Sang. [Standard]

In a case of history repeating itself, youthful Nandi Governor Stephen Sang led a team of county officials and local residents into Kibwari Tea Estate in Nandi Hills where they left a trail of destruction.

Wielding a power saw, the governor and his squad cut and uprooted tea bushes in the Nandi Hills plantation under Eastern Produce Kenya (EPK), a multinational firm.

The conduct of the first time governor reignites memories of the reign of former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin.

On one dreadful night in 1972, the all-powerful president gave Asian traders 90 days to leave Uganda.

There was a lot of excitement from the locals who believed they were guaranteed a better future after taking over the Indian-ran business. They were mistaken.

To date, Uganda is still grappling with the repercussions of the hostile take-over of the Asian businesses.

As expected, businesses were dished out to Amin’s cronies who had zero knowledge on how to run business. And they ran them aground within no time. His experimentation with nativism backfired spectacularly.

Some of the expelled Indians went to the United Kingdom, while others settled in Kenya and became prominent business leaders.

Mr Sang, a lawyer by profession, might have forgotten his history lessons.

He is setting bad precedent; that leaders- who ought to lead by example- can take the law into their own hands as long as they are convinced they are right.

In the case in question, Mr Sang believes that the four-acre land is public property that was allocated for construction of a cattle dip before it was grabbed. No lawful process has established the ownership of the property.

Yet the ground had been laid for Mr Sang’s action. He could just be testing the waters.

Nearly a year ago, Mr Sang joined the governors of Bomet Joyce Laboso and Kericho’s Paul Chepkwony in calling for compensation and a complete takeover of the mostly British-run tea estates in their counties.

The three want the ownership reverted to county governments. In their claim to the land and property, they accuse former British colonialists of forcibly evicting the locals to pave the way for the huge swathes of tea farms.

Their calls for the surrender of the farms have been heightened by the expiry of 99-year leases given to the owners of the conglomerates. Unilever, George Williamson and James- African Highlands own huge tracts of land under tea cultivation in these counties.

Mr Sang’s predecessor, Cleophas Lagat, even hired renowned British lawyer Karim Khan to act for the county in a case before the ICC and the African Court of Justice seeking for reparation to the community. He allocated Sh108 million for these efforts.

It is therefore not wise to dismiss Mr Sang’s acts as those of a publicity-seeking first time governor. His is a continuation of a sorry narrative.

It is the danger his acts pose to life and property that should not be tolerated at all.

First, the forceful takeover of alleged grabbed lands and other properties is unlawful. The right to ownership is protected in law. Any party that contravenes that is liable for prosecution.

Supposing the 99-year leases were not renewed; whereas the governors claim to speak for the common people, beyond the loud takeover bids, what are the rules of engagement? Are revenue-sharing formulas or ownership details in the public domain? The bigger risk is the scrum that ensues as the politicians and the public scramble for a slice the land, thereby defeating the intention of the takeover elite as happened during the collapse of the Soviet Union 1990.

Second, and connected to the above, as far as we know, counties lack the capacity to manage and run the farms. And if the way they have managed the counties is anything to go by, then there is so much to worry about.

But most importantly, Mr Sang’s action sends the wrong signal to investors – not just in Nandi, but all over the country- that their safety and that of their property is not guaranteed. In a globalized world, that poses a huge risk to the country’s economy.

It is comforting that the Director of Public Prosecutions Noordin Haji and head of the Directorate of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti have taken up the matter. They need to send the message that impunity has no place in modern-day Kenya.