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Risking all for public land

By | June 5th 2011

Lydia Nyambura, a civil servant, risked her job and life to powerful land grabbers. She spoke to Kiundu Waweru.

Her love for the environment almost caused one woman her life. She was caught in the middle of powerful individuals and her efforts to preserve public land gave her untold pain. Her husband was also ailing at the time and it could have been easy for her to give in. She, however, remained adamant even after the demise of her husband.

That was in 1998. Lydia had just been promoted to a manager at the veterinary department, Ministry of Livestock in Ngong’. More than 1,000 acres which housed Animal Health Training Institute was under her care. She would plant trees around the land at any opportunity.

Lydia receives an award from former vice president Moody Awori. [PHOTOS: EVANS HABIL AND JOSEPH KIPTARUS/STANDARD]

"The tree nursery was on about an acre of land. Shortly, it was taken by ‘private developers. The 1990s was the height of the crave for public land. I knew I had a duty to safeguard that land," she says.

Her fears were not unfounded. In 1999, more people showed interest in the land.

Start quarry

"The first attempt was by a group that claimed they wanted to start a quarry," says Lydia, adding that she did not allow them because; "They gave me a handwritten note from a government officer, authorising me to let them put up a quarry."

Lydia needed more evidence and she went to her director for advice. The director was unhappy with her as he had been told that Lydia tore the handwritten note.

Besides, says Lydia, there were no stones to be mined on that land. The community around benefited from the land and tension had started building up. They threatened to take up arms.

"The order had come from the ministry, and ‘big’ people were unhappy with me. I was transferred to Kabete."

At the time, the ‘dream team’, appointed by then President Moi to boost Kenya’s economy had come in and Lydia saw an opportunity to present her case. She had not torn the handwritten notes, now her evidence, and she presented it to the team.

"Investigations discovered that the cartel that wanted the Ngong’ farm for a quarry was involved in other ills. Heads rolled and people were sacked including a director."

In the year 2000, Lydia was referred back to Ngong’. Unfortunately, her husband died the same year.

Her woes had just started. Another group of ‘private developers’ came calling in 2002.

"These were foreigners. They claimed the government had given them the land in Ngong’ in exchange of land they had given out to the Meteorological Department in Dagoretti Corner."

"They had no documents to prove their case and when I refused, they came back with a title deed, and took it to my boss in Kabete," says Lydia.

"They got 20 acres."

After that, she says, the group would ride in motorcycles on the farm. Other people also came in and started putting up beacons.

Take up arms

"The community threatened to take up arms. I resisted and I would receive unpleasant phone calls."

Her boss summoned her and said that since she seemed stressed, she should take leave. "The idea was to push on their agenda in my absence."

The director summoned her and flashed the title before putting it back in the drawer.

"Luckily, he left the office. Fearfully but determined, I took the title from the drawer and photocopied it."

She took the documents to the Kenya Anti-corruption Commission twice, but the matter kept on being referred to the same people crucifying her. When she resumed work from leave, she was given new roles, to frustrate her and was transferred to Kerugoya.

"I was seen as a threat."

The year 2003 saw a new dawn with the election of a new government. Lydia wrote to the former Ethics and Governance PS, John Githongo. She had misplaced some of her documents, and Githongo couldn’t act without evidence. She later got it and, "In 2004, more people were sacked as more corruption was unearthed," she adds.

She was redeployed to Ngong’. "More heads rolled."

In 2007, she took the documents and a plan she had picked from her former boss’s office, showing how the farm had been divided and given to undeserving individuals, to KACC for the third time. "They visited the station and took action."

Today, Lydia still lives at the Ngong’ farm and works at the Ministry of Agriculture.

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