Anguish, outcry, huge losses as Kenya Railways reclaims its land

Part of Dunga Nursing and Maternity home in Kisumu county that was brought down by county government bulldozers on December 16, 2017 to pave way for road construction. The facility is said to be constructed along the road reserve. [Collins Oduor, Standard]

It all started in June 2019 with a one-month notice from Kenya Railways terminating leases for some of its premises and land.

The following month, traders at Lwang’ni Beach in Kisumu became the first victims of the demolitions in which at least 20 eateries were brought down.

A few of the traders secured spaces at Dunga Beach, about five kilometres south of Lwang’ni, while some moved to other areas within the town, and others shut down businesses for good.

The hotels were known for special dishes of fish served fresh, with their eyes popping. They had been attracting local and international tourists who loved to enjoy their tilapia as a warm, brisk wind blew from Lake Victoria.

“I spent a fortune putting up this structure, and I do not want to remember the story,” says Joyce Okello, the proprietor of Tazama Hotel, which she relocated to Dunga.

Other businesses, which were affected by the demolitions, include TLC, a bar and restaurant associated with former Gem MP Jakoyo Midiwo.

These demolitions were soon followed by other demolitions by the Kisumu County Government to pave way for the modernisation of the town.

For the past one year, the county government has targeted grabbed public land and encroached road reserves, with tens of thousands of people counting losses.

Last year, demolitions took place along Ang’awa Street, Jomo Kenyatta Highway, Mosque Road, as well as other access roads connecting the CBD and the outskirts.

Recent demolitions have been witnessed at Kibuye Market, the largest open-air market in the region, which sits on a 12-acre piece of land. This is to pave way for the modernisation of the market.

As a result, a number of traders have been moved to an open ground near Moi Stadium, with some finding alternative spaces along the roads, such as Kachok-Kondele bypass, among others.

Neno Evangelical Church, associated with Pastor James Ng’ang’a, recently fell victim to the demolitions, which affected parts of Mosque Road.

The infrastructural improvement within Kisumu is happening ahead of the Africities Conference set to be hosted in the lakeside city in April next year.

“We are using the authentic map to recover grabbed land and encroached road reserves, but we are providing alternative places for the traders affected,” said acting City Manager Abala Wanga.

Anderson Estate has also been demolished to pave way for the construction of modern housing, while Arina and Makasembo estates are also lined up for the project.

But last month, Governor Anyang' Nyong’o temporarily halted demolitions affecting small-scale traders until the construction of Uhuru Business Park is complete, so as to provide alternative space for the business people.

The notice came after a petition by traders at the famous Garissa Lodge, which is also lined up for demolition. The area has over 500 shops, mostly occupied by Kenyans of Somali descent.

In Nakuru County, Kenya Railways is facing at least four court cases over the October 2020 demolitions that saw traders suffer losses amounting to Sh4 billion.

Two companies and a private developer have filed separate cases in which they accuse the state agency of violating a lease agreement they have over parcels of land along Geoffrey Kamau Way.

Declared illegal

They want the demolitions carried out on October 10 and 11, 2020 declared illegal and KRC barred from occupying the suit properties.

“The defendant forcibly entered the suit properties, demolished the properties without legal basis, forcibly and illegally took possession of the suit properties and is now illegally developing properties,” reads one of the petitions filed by Falcon Service Station Limited (FSSL).

In the documents filed in court, the company claims that it had leased 1.7 acres from KRC for 15 years from February 6, 2013.

“The plaintiff paid a standing premium of Sh2,750,000, security deposit of Sh137,000 and was to pay an annual rent of Sh550,000,” reads the suit.

Some of the Business premises that were demolished by Kenya Railways officials at Kenya Railway land along Geoffrey Kamau way in Nakuru town on October 11,2020. Property estimated at Sh500 million comprising of 300 businesses premises including petrol stations, restaurants, shops and car bazaars were flattened by the Kenya Railways to reclaim the land.[Kipsang Joseph,Standard]

FSSL, through lawyer Abdikadir Sheikh, says the lease was extended on December 15, 2016 for a further 25 years effective January 2017, and Sh3,500,000 was paid as standing premium for the renewal.

The firm adds that it put up a petrol station and other commercial premises on the land, which were demolished by KRC.

FSSL wants compensation of Sh312,094,000 as special damages for motor vehicle yard, tyre centre and the petrol station.

Nakel Investment Limited (NIL) says it had established permanent structures on a one-acre piece within the contested land.

It also operated a petrol station and other small business enterprises.

NIL wants compensation of Sh84,350,000 to cater for demolition of Mercy International Business, two car wash bays, premise and machines and motor shops.

Through Abdikadir, NIL claims it also entered into a lease agreement with KRC on February 26, 2013 and the lease was extended to 25 years on October 26, 2018.

NIL says it established and developed commercial premises, various businesses and has since observed the terms in the lease agreement.

“The plaintiff has enjoyed quiet possession of the land since it occupied it until October 10, 2020 when it was demolished,” reads the suit.

Businesswoman Monica Wamuhu is also seeking Sh132 million compensation for the October 11, 2020 demolition of her business premises.

In the October 27, 2020 suit, Wamuhu wants general damages for trespass by KRC and lost accruing rent from the buildings that were on the land from the date of demolition.

She says she is the registered owner of a property, which stood on a one-acre parcel, after she inherited it from her husband Peter Macharia on April 1, 1999, after he died on October 31, 1998.

She says her husband leased the land on August 1, 1992 for 99 years with an annual rent of Sh10,000 per year.

She avers that she was allocated the commercial property – a factory manufacturing bags plus other premises rented to other business people  – as compensation for her land that was compulsorily acquired by the State to build a public school.

She produced a court judgement in civil suit 470 of 1993 declaring that the property was private and not part of the railway reserve.

The judgement seen by The Standard, delivered on September 21, 1995, by Justice Sarah Ondeyo declared Wamuhu the legal owner of the suit property.

“In spite of the foregoing judgement, the defendant has maliciously entered the suit land and demolished properties,” reads her suit.

With the applications, two Environment and Lands courts (ELC) in Nakuru have temporarily barred KRC from occupying or transferring the parcels within which it evicted traders until the suits are determined.

Justice Dalmas Ohungo and John Mutungi restrained KRC from trespassing, construction or selling the parcels of land bordering Kenya Railways line along Geoffrey Kamau Way in Nakuru town.

“A temporary order of injunction is hereby issued restraining the defendant (KRC) and its agents from trespassing, alienating, constructing, leasing, transferring, trading or interfering with the plaintiffs’ (FSSL, NIL and Wamuhu) ownership of the land pending hearing and determination of the plaintiffs’ applications,” ruled the judges.

Iconic buildings

In Bungoma, some iconic buildings that define the town are among those earmarked for demolition.

Kenya Railways embarked on destroying structures said to have been erected on its land.

Affected structures include Dawameds Hospital, a private facility located opposite the Bungoma County Assembly building, Railways Park Shopping Mall that houses the Railways Park Hotel and a host of other shops, totaling to about 45 entities.

The KRC bulldozers last week brought down all the buildings that border old Bungoma Railways Station.

However, Sharrifs Centre, one of the strategic buildings in the town, was spared albeit for a while to give the owner and traders time to vacate.

So far, the building, valued at slightly over Sh400 million, has been swept clean in anticipation of the planned demolition.

Traders interviewed earlier claimed to have lost property worth millions of shillings in the ongoing demolitions.

All targeted buildings have been marked and are located near the railway line in Bungoma town.

“We were never served with a notice requiring us to move before the demolitions. We just saw people putting marks on the buildings and later the bulldozer was spotted,” said a trader.

Khetias Supermarket, which is among those targeted for demolition, has relocated to avert losses.

Naz Sharrifs, the proprietor of Sharrifs Centre, says he has a binding lease agreement with the government for the property occupied by the building he put up close to three decades ago.

According to Sharrifs, the lease agreement was supposed to run for 99 years “yet we have done barely half the duration, we don’t understand what is happening. We have a proper and legal agreement and documents,” said Shariffs.

Bungoma County Government has condemned the ongoing demolitions. 

Sharrifs says Kenya Railways officials had asked him to have a meeting with Bungoma County Commissioner Samuel Kimiti to find a solution.

Another building near Posta grounds was also demolished, with the teachers-owned Ngarisha Sacco plots also affected.

Hundreds of individuals employed by affected businesses have urged the government to intervene and stop the demolitions.

In Central, rehabilitation of the Nairobi-Nanyuki railway led to the demolition of many structures along 240km line and hundreds of traders suffered losses.

Traders who had encroached the railway line reserve were relocated to a designated market site in Karatina town, Nyeri County.

However, they complained of inadequate space in the market, which they said could not accommodate them all. The railway line was officially re-operationalised last year.

New market

A similar fate befell traders in Chaka town who were operating on Kenya Railways land. They were relocated to near a newly built market set for opening by President Uhuru Kenyatta next month.

However, Kenya Railways’ plan to demolish permanent buildings it says were built in their land were thwarted, following protests by the business community and political leaders. 

Last month, more than 100 business premises were also demolished in Kitale town, following a directive by Kenya Railways, which is reclaiming its land for resumption of train services in the agricultural town. The demolitions began following the expiry of a vacation notice.

Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya toured the town to start the exercise.

In Eldoret, business operators counted losses after bulldozers from Kenya Railways brought down premises on railway reserve land.

Premises located within 30 metres along the railway line and others on land reserved for the State corporation’s office and housing expansion were demolished.

From agro-vets to godowns and petrol stations, Kenya Railways was stopping at nothing in reclaiming the land.

More than 400 jobs were lost in the operation.

Natembeya said the railways land had not been leased and the evictees had encroached on it. He said the business operators were given notice through the media in 2019.

[Kevine Omollo, Daniel Chege, Jacinta Mutura and Mumo Munuve]