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Landowners cry foul as squatters move in after landmark ruling

Rift Valley
 Mark Too's daughter Jeniffer Too speaks during an interview at their disputed farm in Kapseret, Uasin Gishu County, on November 21, 2022. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

Landowners settled in a disputed 25,000-acre farm in Kapseret, Uasin Gishu County are living in fear following a landmark ruling that gave ownership to Sirikwa squatters.

By Monday, as the squatters moved into parts of the expanded farm, there was fear. A section of those who have already settled urged the court to explain the fate of all those who bought the land that formerly belonged to the East African Tanning and Extract Company (EATEC).

Some of the squatters had moved in with their livestock. They have also set up an office on the farm that belonged to former nominated MP Mark Too, now deceased.

Led by former assistant minister Jesse Maiz, the residents said they paid for the farms and expressed worry over losing their property following the Court of Appeal decision in Kisumu.

After the Appellate Court's final decision, the squatters comprising more than 500 families started subdividing part of the land. Others erected makeshift structures in a move to reclaim the land.

Maiz said with the court's order taking shape, the landowners were left in the dark regarding the fate of their properties despite having valid title deeds. The former assistant minister, who owns 40 acres within the disputed land, said he bought it from EATEC in 2000.

He settled on the farm that he and his family have called home for more than two decades, he says.

"We are genuine buyers who bought this land and settled here with our families. However, as things are now, we are living in fear because we do not know what will happen to us."

Maiz said despite some of the landowners seeking to be enjoined in the case as interested parties, the court failed to mention the fate of those who were not parties to the suit.

"We feel the court should have shed more light on the matter regarding our issue because to us who live on this land, the court's order appears to be ambiguous. The court ought to explain what setting aside our individual title means and ensure that we also get justice," added the former legislator.

Maiz who is settled a few kilometers from the Eldoret Airport added, "I am an old man and we do not want to fall into depression because of land issues. We will just wait here, I do not want to be bothered."

Followed procedures

Maiz said they found no squatters when they settled on the farm and questioned it when he heard of the case involving late MP Too and the squatters.

"This whole parcel was full of trees and wild animals. We wonder where squatters lived because we initially did not find anyone here. We followed all procedures in purchasing the land."

Maiz said it will not be possible to move more than 150,000 from the farms as they settled in after rightfully purchase. "It is not possible. We bought the land and I was not aware of anything fishy. If there was a problem, the then District Commissioners should have raised it."

Anthony Busienei, a retired teacher who owns 20 acres within the disputed parcel, said there was a need to include the other residents in the case since the disputed land involves thousands of people who innocently bought land from EATEC.

 Squatters comprising more than 500 families started subdividing part of the land after the Appellate Court's final decision. [Christopher Kipsang, Standard]

Busienei recalled that the EATEC company, which previously majored in planting wattle trees, announced the sale of land and willing buyers bought it, some individually and others in groups.

"We have invested here and have our families settled here for years. We also have legitimate documents of ownership and have been shocked by the court order, which seems to render us homeless.

"We want the court and the government to intervene and grant us a lasting solution that considers all parties because land cases are very emotive," said Busienei.

He added: "We no longer sleep because we are worried. We hear there are people who want to come to our farms."

Surrendered land

Busienei added that Too does not own the entire 25,000 acres as it has been reported. "Mark Too was only the chairman of EATEC that surrendered the land. The entire land is not Mark Too's."

Jeniffer Too, the daughter of the late MP, expressed her family's displeasure at the court's decision, saying the family is heading to the Supreme Court.

Jennifer said her father purchased the land and dismissed the squatters' allegations as 'malicious'.

"We have grown up here. My grandparents are buried here as well as my late father. It is unfortunate that the other party has started invading the farm without an eviction order.

"It is also shocking to us that some people are claiming this land," said Jennifer, who added that those who have moved in have started destroying fences and cutting trees.

She said the family has all along obeyed the law and plans to move to the Supreme Court for justice.

Benjamin Rono, the chairman of Sirikwa squatters on the other hand, dared Too's family to proceed to the Supreme Court, saying their lawyers are ready to continue defending the squatters.

Rono said the squatters would continue surveying and distributing the land, urging the former MP's family to pack up and leave.

Subdividing land

"We have started settling on our land. Some are grazing their animals here because this is our land and the court has confirmed it," Rono said.

The more than 1,000 squatters have been embroiled in a land ownership tussle with the family of the late Too since 2007.

In May this year, Justice Elijah Obaga ordered surveyors to set up beacons and map out public utilities from the disputed land.

Public institutions in the contested farm include the Eldoret International Airport, Moi University, public primary and secondary schools and public roads which occupy about 6,200 acres, leaving out the disputed land at about 17,800 acres.

The squatters went to court in 2007 and sued various government departments, Lonrho Agribusiness East Africa Company, Mark Too, David Korir and others ,for grabbing their land.

In 2017, the Lands Court in Eldoret ruled in favour of the squatters, but their celebration was shortlived after Too moved to the appellate court.

The court agreed with the squatters who previously worked as farm hands and labourers for a British multinational. The court said the property belonged to their forefathers before they were kicked out.

The court said out of the disputed land, Too's Farm in Kapseret, Eldoret, where he was buried in January 2017 was, however, spared in the landmark judgment.

High Court judge Anthony Ombwayo had ruled that the squatters be allocated the land.

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