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Kirima land heist: A land grab, trail of death and pain

National
 The family of land baron Garishon Kirima (left) is seeking to recover land forcibly taken from them. [File, Standard]

As the family of Nairobi's biggest land baron and former Starehe MP, the Garishon Kirima starts the process of establishing the actual number of families living on land forcibly taken from them, The Sunday Standard brings the inside story of how the heist was executed.

On Saturday, family spokesperson, daughter Gathoni Kirima said the land was bought in 1966 and, according to her, very few people could own such a huge property by that time.

"We have had political opportunists. Some have even gone to the archives. We are not going to allow that to happen," said Gathoni.

To keep off the opportunists, the family has enlisted the support of former Nairobi governor Mike Sonko and a team of lawyer to untangle the intricate web.

In the end, the Kirima family is likely to engage as many as 1,000 victims of the dubious land deals who are expected to buy back their homes or get demolished.

"We will carry out current market valuation and establish the number of families on the land before we can consider negotiations," said Gathoni.

She added: "It is wrong to politicise lives. Victims are people misled to buy land which was not there. It is immoral for leaders to lie to Kenyans. We have appointed Mike Sonko as our champion because we trust him."

The dream of most city dwellers is to own a place where they call a home where they can stay peacefully without having to bother about rent.

It does not matter whether the house is a palatial one or a mere hovel. Apart from paying rent, there are many advantages of owning a home. Some of them include freedom, privacy, stability and pride of ownership.

No wonder demand for land in Nairobi and surrounding environs is so high that public and private parcels, road reserves, wayleaves, parking spaces and even playgrounds are targeted by grabbers and land speculators. With an ever increasing population, land in the capital city is dwindling at an alarming rate that in the foreseeable future, the vital resource might not be available.

The mad rush for land is the cause of perennial bloody conflicts, grabbing and falsification of ownership documents among other misdeeds associated with land acquisition in a city where owning a home or house is a mark of success.

The sad reality, however, is that most land deals are not genuine. Buyers are duped into believing the property is authentic only to realise later that the parcels or plots are owned by other persons or entities.

And this is the scenario especially in Eastlands where many are left clinging onto worthless title deeds or allotment letters given to them by brokers who hide behind registered self-help groups in the dubious land deals that have left individuals homeless, cashless and led to broken families.

In Eastlands, several self-help groups annex idle parcels in what has come to be known as 'Mradi' - a parlance for gambling.

Potential buyers are never warned about this huge risk. They are instead pampered with nice words, lied to the land is legit and relevant government officials are involved.

This is exactly what happened in Njiru, Choka and parts of Mihango where thousands of home owners are staring at possible eviction after the court ruled recently that the more 1,000 acres they have settled on belong to Kirima. Even though the matter had dragged in court for almost two decades, some of those interviewed by The Standard on Sunday maintain they are innocent buyers, claiming they were not aware of the legal dispute at the time of investing their hard-earned money.

Interestingly, the dwellers have welcomed the ruling delivered by Justice Samson Okong'o, saying they had been suffering in silence accusing those who sold them the parcels of using militia to extort and intimidate them into submission.

 Chokaa, Mihang'o and Njiru areas. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

"When I came here, nobody told me about an existing land case. Though there were rumours that the land belongs to Kirima we were assured that the late politician is no long the owner and that the government had sanctioned sub-divisions and settlement of people," said Mercy*.

Some of the self-help groups that claimed ownership of the Kirima land include Unity, Naridai, Sakra, Mwihoto and Kamatuto.

Looking back, a retired employee (name withheld) regrets the decision he made to settle there. With retirement fast approaching, the former public servant had the option of buying a much bigger portion of land in Joska at almost the same amount he paid to acquire the contested Njiru plot.

But other factors came into play, swaying his decision in 2017 when he was prospecting for an ideal place to put up his retirement home. The proximity to the city centre and the fact that many people had already settled in Njiru attracted him to the place.

Armed with Sh550,000 being a loan secured by his wife from a shylock, the man struck a deal with officials of Kamatuto Self-Help Group who claimed to be the original owners of the land.

He was taken around a number of empty demarcated plots and asked to choose one he preferred.

The presence of several bungalows and maisonettes under construction erased doubts the man initially nursed. He was told some of the constructions belonged to senior officers in the judiciary and police.

By the time of parting with some of his money, he was absolutely convinced he had struck a genuine deal.

He was told to pay Sh500,000 for his plot measuring 30x60 feet while the additional Sh50,000 being security fee - a red flag he failed to detect.

He paid Sh300,000 and agreed to clear the remaining balance of Sh200,000 later. "Meanwhile, I used the remaining 200,000 shillings to construct a structure up to the lintel level," explains the man.

By putting up the construction, he killed two birds with one stone. The man was securing the parcel while at the same time he wanted to know whether it belonged to someone else.

A year later, his property was intact. In 2019, he secured a loan facility and resumed with construction of his dream home. But frustrations started setting in when he embarked on the project as rumours swirled that the land belonged to Kirima.

Amid the rumours, the man put on a brave face, though inside, he was worried. "After all, I was not alone; I consoled myself that if I were to sink, I won't go down alone," says the man who requested to remain anonymous for security reasons.

He would later realise that what seemed to be a cheap bargain ended up being an expensive enterprise thanks to various charges developers are required to pay to Kamatuto Self-Help Group.

For one to be allowed to take full possession of their property, they are required to pay Sh150,000 as transfer fee, Sh50,000 for share certificate, Sh25,000 for electricity connection, Sh20,000 for water connection, Sh25,000 for digging the foundation and Sh25,000 for putting up a concrete slab.

Failure to part with these charges is met with threats, beatings, eviction or even dispossession of the property. Allegedly, a ruthless militia enforces these charges.

"A new comer might not know of the existence of this dangerous militia. You only discover its presence later when it rears its ugly face," said another home owner who did not wish his identity known for fear of facing reprisals.

The court ruling thus came as a reprieve to home owners since the militia has taken a retreat after being driven out of business.

"Now, they have no grounds to make demands; the court ruling has left them powerless. We are moving fast to organize ourselves as members of Kamatuto and take charge of our affairs that were in the hands of brokers and goons with no legitimate claim to this land other than fleecing us," added the man.

According to the man, at one point, he had initiated talks with some members of the Kirima family who were willing to listen to them. He was in the process of leading a delegation to meet the Kirimas but when word reached Kamatuto Self-Help, he abandoned the mission for the sake of his life.

"I was called and warned of dire consequences should I proceed with the meeting with members of the Kirima family. That's how our attempted search for truth over ownership of this land collapsed, and for a long time, goons have been dictating matters here," said the man.

 Land baron Garishon Kirima. [File, Standard]

Another man who has been threatened for being vocal about the matter said he was attracted to the place after he was made to believe that Kirima was no longer the owner after the veteran politician failed to extend the property's lease. The statistician cum businessman was taken on a tour of the parcel where he was impressed by upcoming buildings.

"Kamatuto officials convinced me that a high ranking official in the ministry of Lands had confined in them that the lease had not been extended prompting the government to surrender the land," recalls the statistician.

When he discovered later that the land indeed belonged to the Kirima family, it was already too late since he had heavily invested on the property - a home and business.

He was among the first land purchasers in 2016. He bought two plots each for Sh300,000. The man came to know about the place when one afternoon he left his Umoja Estate house and went to visit a relative in Njiru.

Motivated by the achievement of his relative who had already settled there, he did not waste time in making a decision.

"This was quite a bargain. I took a loan, buying the first one before going for the second one later," says the businessman with a tinge of regret.

The court set December 31, 2023 as the deadline for the households estimated to be about 25,000 to vacate the land.

"We are now on our own and it is only the government that can rescue us since it has all the database and intelligence on matters land," said Jackson* who blames local police and administrators of failing to protect innocent buyers from land sharks.

Another land owner Ken Onyango says most of them are third party owners settled on a parcel sub-divided and sold out by Unity Selp-Help Group. Their plots cost between Sh400,000 and Sh700,000 depending on year of purchase.

Like their neighbours at Kamatuto, they have been living under the grip of an extortionist gang purporting to enforce order and security.

"Once you pay for the plot; you become a slave of the goons who work close police officers and local administrator. They demand you start building immediately you buy the plot, and worse, you are not in control of who will do for construction works. They come with their own masons and labourers," said George* highlighting tribulations facing many developers in Njiru and Choka.

According to the chairman of High Life Estate Owners, which has 48 courts, the ruling is a godsend since it will finally accord them an opportunity to negotiate directly with the genuine owners of the parcel.

"Members who bought plots live in perpetual fear, and most of them can't open up because the untouchable militia is active and dangerous. In fact as we speak; I have been warned against wading into this matter. Those who sold us land want to lead negotiations with the Kirima family; but we won't allow them," added Onyango.

Newly posted Kayole sub county police commander Lucas Ongaya said he will not allow the goons to continue thriving and harassing dwellers. He disclosed that he has received complaints the goons are threatening some home owners they deem to be an obstacle.

"Although it is a challenge, I will flush them out. I will liaise with the SCIO so that we deploy an undercover team with a brief to intensify patrols inside the affected settlements," pledged Ongaya.

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