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Trouble brewing as locals invade Mumias Sugar land

Some residents have defied a court order and invaded Mumias Sugar Company’s land in an attempt to wrest the property from the miller.

They took the action after failing to convince the court to revert 8,700 acres to “the original owners”. Families that gave up land for the setting up of the company on February 1,1968 had moved to the Lands and Environment Court to have their land reverted to them, but the court ruled in the miller’s favour.

The families, known as Abahuyi, wanted the court to nullify the lease, which they claimed ended on December 31, 2001. They also wanted the miller to pay them rent from “the time the lease lapsed” plus interests, at the current commercial rates.

The case was filed my Ramadhan Nyangweso Kanduwi and nine others. The applicants also wanted crops, buildings and other structures removed from the suit property.

Dismissing the case, Justice Nelly Matheka, observed: “This matter was filed way back in 2008. The plaintiffs (Abahuyi) have never been ready to proceed and on June 14, 2018 they were granted the very last adjournment.”

The judge added: “Come the day of the hearing on July 12, 2018, their advocate claimed to have been in Kitale handling another matter. I find that there was inordinate delay in prosecuting the suit by the plaintiffs which has not been sufficiently explained and therefore inexcusable.”

But despite the court orders, some residents have gone as far as allocating themselves to the disputed land.

They claim the 33-year lease agreement entered into between residents and the government on behalf of the miller lapsed in 2001.

Mumias Sugar nucleus estate has been lying fallow for over two years. The company has been unable to grow sugarcane on it due to financial difficulties and mismanagement.

One of the residents, Rosilidah Were, said she thought it wise to allocate herself a parcel where she plans to grow maize.

Economic hardships

“Economic hardships drove us to allocate the land to ourselves. It has been lying fallow yet we have nowhere to plant maize and other food crops,” said Ms Were.

She said land division has left many families with small portions that can hardly support farming. “Many people have nowhere to plant crops. They have decided to put the idle company land to use,” said Were.

The collapse of Mumias Sugar was a blow to the region. The company employed many residents and also offered ready market to sugarcane.

So far, residents have allocated themselves over 200 acres.

“We are not here to stay. We are only using the land for our immediate needs, that is to get food,” said Valentine Shisia.

Some of the residents have been arrested in the past weeks over allegations of trespass. Mumias sub-county police commander Paul Kipkorir said 10 people were arrested on April 29 for invading the sugar company land.

However, the suspects were released after Mumias Sugar Company officials failed to record statements.

“We were conducting investigations to establish whether they had trespassed. However, we did not receive a formal complaint from the owners of the estate,” said Kipkorir.

Despite the arrests, several villagers are still tilling the land which they term their inheritance.

Abahuyi Mumias Nucleus Association was formed to push for repossession of the land.

The association chairperson Kassim Wangalwa said they have entered into several agreements with government officials who were acting on behalf of the miller.

“They failed to abide by the agreements and the estate was irregularly give to the miller for additional lease period.”

According to the lease agreement, each of the 649 families was supposed to get Sh1,430 per acre every year for 33 years.

The government defaulted and the affected families emerged in 2001 after the lease agreement lapsed, demanding that the land be reverted to them.

Mumias Sugar Company is yet to respond to the issues the residents have raised.

Receiver manager Ponangalli Venkata Ramana Rao has not issued a statement over the state of the company and plans to revive it one year since he took charge.

The company’s legal department boss Patrick Mutuli said he was not in a position to comment on the matter. “Unfortunately, I am not authorised to speak on behalf of the receiver manager,” Mutuli said.

An official who did not wish to be named said the problem started when farmers in Mumias East Constituency invaded the land, cut down cane which they sold private millers and jaggeries.

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