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Why community is determined to defy court ruling on Kedong land

By Daniel Wesangula | April 17th 2016 at 13:42:14 GMT +0300

On Friday, hundreds of protesters blockaded Narok-Mai Mahiu Road rendering it impassable. They were members of the Maasai community. At the centre of the protest was ownership of Kedong Ranch, an expansive and prime land.

The Friday protest was the latest of many such incidents over the ownership of the 75,000 acres of land. According to documents seen by The Standard on Sunday, 23 prominent individuals and business executives are listed as shareholders of this ranch.

Sometime in July 2013 about 2,000 Maasai descended on what they call their spiritual home in Suswa, Narok County. The first item on the day’s agenda was a rather urgent one; repossession of what they said was their ancestral land cutting through Naivasha all the way to Suswa in Narok County.

Members of the Maasai community hold a demonstration along the Mai-Mahiu road to protest the move to kick them out of the vast Kedong Ranch in Narok County. They vowed to hold demonstrations to contest the ownership of the ranch. (PHOTO: ANTHONY GITONGA/ STANDARD)

Politicians and spiritual leaders vowed to bring the land back to their people. But barely a month after the Suswa meeting, the Judiciary stood in the way to this land.

A previous case filed at the Nairobi High Court challenging the ownership of the land was determined. Making his ruling on ownership, Judge L.N. Waithaka stated that the expansive ranch was owned by a legal entity known as Kedong Ranch Ltd. A subsequent appeal, filed by the community living within the ranch was dismissed, with the Court of Appeal upholding the ruling of the High Court.

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Economic fortunes

“That is why we want the courts to be overhauled. They have progressively been unfair to our people and we know that justice in our country often goes to the highest bidder,” Moitalel ole Kenta (pictured), the Narok North MP, said in reference to the disputed land.

Kedong Ranch belongs to the Maasai community, said Kenta.

“Questions should be asked about how a group of individuals owned this land that was already occupied without the knowledge of those who were living on it at the time? We as Maasai have always lived on this land. Absentee landlords want to take it away from us,” he said.

Official documents show that Kedong Ranch is owned by an array of individuals and organisations.

Top on the shareholder list is Muhotetu Farmers Company Ltd which owns 40.66 per cent. Family Circle Investments owns 6.83 per cent of the ranch. Other listed shareholders are Grace Njambi Wood, and Jeremiah Joseph Nyaga among others.

All these, Kenta says, are absentee landlords.

The push and pull over the land is based on real political and commercial fortunes. Among the lucrative opportunities on this parcel of land are high stakes in the energy sector.

“The people who claim to be the genuine land owners have no idea where this land is. They are individuals who benefited from crooked institutions and their association with past governments. As far as we are concerned the land belongs to us,” Narok West MP Keturet ole Ntutu told The Standard on Sunday.

The ranch has great geothermal potential. The clean energy bug bit Kenya as far back as 1956 when two wells were drilled at Olkaria.

In comparison to other sources of energy, the cleanliness of geothermal is a thing to marvel at. The Kenyan government has embarked on a major exploratory process in the Rift Valley to harness the potential of massive deposits.

The exploratory area is quite expansive traversing great lengths of the Rift Valley basin from Lake Magadi, Suswa, Longonot, Olkaria, Eburru, Lake Baringo and Menengai. Extraction of this clean energy is a multi-billion dollar industry and those who own land on which the resource is found would line up for a share of the compensation billions. Kedong Ranch, valued at approximately Sh20 billion, sits at the core of the country’s source of geothermal energy. A significant portion of the ranch has been discovered to have massive geothermal capability.

“If someone purports to own it, then it was transferred to them illegally,” Kenta says.

Chairperson of the Kedong Ranch board of directors Christine Chronchey said the ownership of the parcel is clear.

“If anyone claims to be the owner of the land let them show us their valid titles. The court made a ruling and the law must be abided by. Kedong has its rightful owners,” Francis Kadima, the lawyer for the Kedong Ranch, said.

“Those saying otherwise are breaking the law by inciting the public.”

In the case challenging the ownership, a group representing community interests claimed that the High Court misapplied the law on adverse possession in determining the suit. Further, they say the judge failed to consider “the historical and legitimate claim and occupation of the suit land by the Maasai community to which they belong thereby violating their constitutional rights to property, socio-economic rights, and their right to practice their culture”.

“The claim that the land was ancestral was used to reinforce the alleged possession. In the circumstances, we find no merit in the notice of motion,” reads part of the judgment by three Court of Appeal judges.

The ruling, said Kenta, has not taken away the significance that the land has to the pastoralist communities around it.

“If that is the case, then still, those people on that land need to be looked upon as other landless Kenyans and resettled by the government,” Kenta says.

The controversies around ownership of the ranch seem to have scared away investors who may want to invest in energy. For instance, Muhotetu Farmers Company has been unable to sell their stake in Kedong Ranch for over three years due to the dispute.

An initial offer of close to Sh4 billion to buy off Muhotetu Ltd hit a snag following protracted court cases within Muhotetu itself.

Subsequent investors who have made various offers to buy Muhotetu’s stake have developed a cold feet following the controversies involving the Maasai community and the company.

“Our people have been evacuated from their land many times since independence. We are telling the Jubilee Government that this will never happen again.

“They should be demanding compensation from the offices that gave them titles to other people’s land. In fact they should know that we are planning an even bigger rally,” the Narok West MP said. Currently, a caveat on any dealings on the land is in place.

Kedong Land land disputes maasai community Kedong Ranch
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