If it were not for Metal Refineries EPZ Limited’s venture, perhaps Uhuru Owino residents would have quietly lived on their 13.5-acre land.
Uhuru Owino’s story is that of a godsend that turned to haunt the fortunate and left them at the mercy of the slow wheels of justice.
The residents are among the few Kenyans who acquired land through adverse possession.
A Court of Appeal order by Justices Asike Makhandia, William Ouko, and Kathurima M’inoti has certified the residents as the rightful owners of the property that is now at the centre of their poisoning woes.
The three Judges found that Alfeen Mehdimohammed, who had claimed the property to be his after being bequeathed by his late uncle Azim Shamshindin Ismael, had come in too late in the day as the land had changed hands many times, and eventually landed on the Uhuru Owino residents.
“Even before the appellant got title to the suit land, it had gone through many hands. Those in whose favour it was transferred before him ultimately got to him never set foot on the suit land,” the three judges found.
They said by the time Alfeen moved to claim the land, Uhuru Owino residents had been living on it for over 40 years.
“They have three schools, eight churches, one mosque, and a cemetery. The original and subsequent owners were dispossessed and their possession discontinued,” the bench headed by Justice Makhandia said.
Alfeen sued at least 224 residents led by Basil Feroz.
He said he inherited the suit land from his uncle Ismael after obtaining succession orders from the Family Court on October 4, 2011.
He said upon visiting the suit land he found it occupied by people whose number he gave as 224 who had put up semi-permanent structures.
Alfeen said his efforts through the District Officer to have the people evicted was unsuccessful.
He testified that he did not know from whom his deceased uncle purchased the suit land; that he did not know when those occupying the suit land took possession and was not aware of a judgment issued in 2010 in favour of the residents.
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Uhuru Owino residents’ case was presented by four witnesses.
They said they had been living on the land for 30-40 years, having initially occupied it either as tenants of one of the previous owners, Lalji Maghaji. The court heard that they were permitted to occupy the property by the previous owner’s workers, Kenga Tuva and Owino Uhuru.
The land drew its name, Owino-Uhuru, from the latter.
Uhuru Owino residents told the court that sometime in 2010, Sleek Properties Ltd showed up claiming the land. They moved to court arguing that they had become owners through adverse possession.
The court heard that Lalji never set foot on the land. They however stated that the only thing the occupants did was to pay the Mombasa Municipal Council rates in his name.
The history of the Uhuru Owino land stretches back to 1922, changed in 1932 twice, 1936, 1995, 2009, 2010 and 2012.
Judges found that there was uncontroverted evidence from the residents that they occupied the suit land around 1975 or 1976.
Lalji got the property on September 15, 1936. By the time the residents occupied it, he had been a registered owner for 39 years.
In October 2009 the land was transferred to Saiyo Keya Ltd and then in November 2009 to Sleek Properties Ltd. The circumstances of the transfers were not clear.
Lalji’s lack of interest in the land handed luck to the residents who needed it.