Ray of hope for peasants' 50-year battle to claim ranch

Gucokaniriria Kihato Farmers and Traders Company shareholders during the Annual General Meeting (AGM)at Kasarani on August 10, 2023. [Amos Kareithi, Standard]

A land-buying company that has been fighting to reclaim Solio Ranch for the last 50 years has inched closer to achieving its quest after it successfully elected new directors.

The company, Gucokaniriria Kihato Farmers and Traders Company held its first Annual General Meeting (AGM) since 2006 on Thursday last week, after years of protracted legal battles between rival camps.

The meeting attended by hundreds of shareholders had been sanctioned by a court order after one of the factions sought legal redress to meet and elect directors.

During the meeting at Kasarani, Nairobi, which was at first blocked by the police until they were satisfied that all the court directions had been adhered to, Prof John Ichoya was elected chairman, Rev John Njoroge Mathu secretary, Paul Thige treasurer and Maina Ndiritu vice-chairman.

Other officials elected are Peter Kiarie, (vice secretary), Susan Kamau (assistant treasurer) and David Gitome (organising Secretary) to coordinate regions.

On May 29, this year, High Court Judge Muya Martin sitting in Nyeri directed the company to hold an AGM within 90 days. He ordered that “the agenda of the AGM should include the reading of the account, election of directors and membership.”

The court had directed the two factions to jointly hold the meeting and share the cost of organising the AGM. They were expected to be updated about this development once the case comes up for hearing on September 26, 2023.

On May 31 this year, Njoroge Regeru and Company Advocates wrote to their counterparts, Victor Nduhiu and Company Advocates forwarding the orders and requesting that they inform their clients to start organising for the AGM.

The rival faction led by Samuel Mbugua however returned to the same court in a bid to have the judge set aside the orders calling for the meeting because certain facts had not been disclosed during the initial application.

However, Muya dismissed the application and directed that the company hold an AGM as he had earlier directed.

When the AGM was ultimately conducted, members unanimously resolved to kick out Mbugua as office bearers. Mbugua and his group did not attend the AGM and had earlier warned other members not to attend what they termed as illegal.

New directors

The members further directed Mbugua to hand over all the company’s books of accounts and other instruments and assets to the new directors.

The meeting further resolved that no more shares would be sold, observing that there had been irregular recruitment of new shareholders, although the money collected was never deposited in the company’s accounts.

The shareholders who have been waiting for the land they bought from the government in 1973 were informed that the interim committee had followed up on the issue with the National Land Commission and established that the land was still intact but the persistent boardroom squabbles had frustrated attempts to resettle them.

The company was incorporated in 1970 by a former Mau Mau freedom fighter, John Mwangi Mjumbe who mobilised his members to raise Sh300,000 for the purchase of the 60,000 acres of land.

The company was allocated the land later designated as Solio Ranch by the first President, Jomo Kenyatta on April 14, 1973, at Nakuru State Lodge.

Two days later, on April 16, 1973, the offices of the company at Cross Road in Nairobi were raided by the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) officers, who carried all the documents, receipts correspondences regarding that land and over Sh200,000.

The company was deregistered in 1975 for non-operational since all the registers had been seized as well as vital company documents.

Mjumbe was arrested, the company dissolved and the offices closed on the orders of the then Attorney General, Charles Njonjo who had an interest in Solio Ranch.

The members had to wait until 1981 to register the company afresh and only went to court to sue the government in 1983 when Njonjo left his powerful ministerial position after he was declared a traitor and hounded out of politics.

After more than 23 years, the members celebrated when High Court Judge Joyce Alouch ruled in their favour in 2006. She decreed that the government having lost or displaced the letter of allotment for Solio Ranch which had been granted to Gucokaniriria Kihato Farmers and Traders company that it issues a fresh document.

The government was also ordered to refund the company the money that had been taken by the CID officers when they raided the company.

Solio Ranch and Njonjo later appealed against this decision arguing that they had not been party to the original suit. Multiple applications arising from this suit are still pended in court.