Last laugh: Inside UhuRuto battle over Sh13bn city land

President William Ruto and his predecessor Uhuru Kenyatta at a church service in 2015. [File, Standard]

The story of how President William Ruto and former Cabinet minister Cyrus Jirongo regained their land in Ruai, which was snatched from them by President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration can now be revealed.

Interior CS Prof Kithure Kindiki on December 10 last year excluded the 2, 650 acres Renton Company Ltd and Offshore Trading Company from the Dandora Water Waste Treatment Plant protected area. 

Shortly before Kindiki issued Gazette Notice No. 16993, all the police officers who had been stationed in the controversial land were withdrawn.  

 Following the move, Jirongo says he would continue with the mega Affordable housing plan that he had initiated in 2017 before things went haywire.

In 2017, the businessman had planned to put up a Sh40 billion estate named Ruai Park Estate that would offer affordable houses akin to the Hazina Estate project implemented by his Sololo Oulet Enterprise.

Under the Ruai Park Estate plan, Jirongo had completed a master plan where he would contract 17,000 houses including one, two and three-bedroom apartments, three-bedroom townhouses and a four-bedroom villa.

The amenities in the land would include, primary, secondary and tertiary schools, a public playground police station, a health centre, a police station, a fire station and a railway station inside the park alongside a shopping mall and a bus station.

“I was the first in the country to introduce an affordable houses plan and implemented it in Nairobi, I want to continue and this time round give Kenyans the biggest Affordable Housing Project in  Nairobi through the Ruai Park Estate, we had initially got a partner before politics interrupted with our plan, we are now going back to full gear,” Jirongo told the Saturday Standard.

The saga ensued in the sunset years of Uhuru’s days in State House when a plan was hatched to acquire a Sh13 billion piece of land in Nairobi.

The plan was hatched at State House in January 2020, roping in the ministries of Interior and Coordination, Water and Sanitation, and the Nairobi County government, to wrest 2,600 acres in Ruai, in the north of Nairobi, from Uhuru’s deputy, William Ruto and former Cabinet minister Cyrus Jirongo. 

The scheme was the culmination of political bad blood between Uhuru and his deputy.

The Sunday Standard has learned that a group of Uhuru’s confidants came up with a plan that involved the expansion of the Ruai sewage plant, which had been designated since 1978. The plant, which sits on parcel number LR No 12979 and measures approximately 1,637 acres, is in dire need of expansion.

The senior officials noted that for the government to expand the city’s sewage plant, they needed additional land. Therefore, they set about reclaiming parcel numbers LR No28706 and LR No 28707 totaling about 2,600 acres.

The two pieces of land border Northlands City, Nairobi’s most ambitious development on a 5,000-acre land valued at Sh500 billion, which is associated with the Jomo Kenyatta family.

The then Interior Cabinet Secretary Dr Fred Matiangi, his Water and Sanitation counterpart Cecil Kariuki, Government Spokesman Cyrus Oguna and Nairobi Regional Commissioner Wilson Njenga explained that the two pieces of land were owned by Nairobi Water and Sewerage Company.

The government claimed that the land they were targeting had been grabbed and, therefore, went ahead and planned for the demolition of any developments that had taken place on the land.

Just before the demolitions, on April 23, 2020, then Lands Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri and his Water and Sanitation counterpart Joseph Irungu said the government was repossessing 3,000 acres of land for Dandora Estate Waste Sewerage and Treatment Plant located in Ruai which private entities had grabbed.

To finance the expansion of the sewerage plant, the government had claimed it had secured Sh20 billion loan from the Africa Development Bank.

At the time, the registered owner of LR No 28706 measuring 1605 acres was Renton Company Ltd, while Offshore Trading Company Ltd owned LR No 28707 (999 acres).

President Ruto owns Renton Company Ltd while Offshore Trading Company Ltd belongs to Jirongo. An acre of land in the Ruai area goes for Sh5 million.

On June 3, 2020, Dr Matiangi declared in a special gazette notice the two pieces of land as protected areas and security zone and a wall was constructed. Police Officers were brought in to guard the land.

Incidentally, the Protected Areas Act used in the gazettement was a 1930s piece of colonial legislation that has never been reviewed to fit Kenya’s new constitutional order.

However, the new sewer plant never materialised and officials washed their hands off it and started disengaging the Nairobi County government.

Muraguri, a close confidant of Uhuru, wrote to the Ministry of Water and Sanitation to clarify the ownership details of LR 28707.

In the letter, the PS said that the Ruai land title belongs to LR No 28706 (1605 Acres) owned by Renton Company Ltd, and LR No 28707 (999 Acres) to Offshore Trading Company Limited.

“We are only owed land rates by the owners of the land - Offshore Trading, and we cannot be a party to the evictions and repossession. The land officially belongs to Offshore Trading,” PS Muraguri wrote in his letter.

In defence, Jirongo noted in court papers filed in petition no. 51 of 2011 filed at the High Court that the Ruai Sewerage Plant, owned by Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company was the only land in Ruai which was designated as the official sewer location in 1978 and allocated 4,000 acres. He said it was in various stages of development with 6 phases left to do.

According to Jirongo, Ruai sewerage plant had not been encroached and that its mandated work was ongoing, noting that the two pieces of land totaling 3,000 acres (LR 28706 and LR 28707) which the government wanted repossessed to expand the Ruai plant were not anywhere near connected with Ruai Sewerage plant.

He claimed that the two parcels, which bordered each other, were six kilometres away and had never been gazetted for public use, noting that no single piece of documentation supported the government officials’ claim that this new land is or was ever owned by Nairobi City Water and Sewerage Company.

However, through a petition No. 51 of 2011 filed in the High Court by Jirongo, a consent was entered between the company and the Attorney General quashing the decision to revoke the title.

The AG agreed in court that the government had erroneously attempted to cancel the title and went ahead to direct the registrar to reinstate the titles in favour of Renton Company Ltd and Offshore Trading.

According to the court papers, in 1993, the government seized a piece of land in Embakasi measuring 134 acres. These parcels situated in the current location on which Nyayo Highrise Embakasi standa and were owned by Offshore Trading while Renton Company Ltd also owned 189 acres.

Jirongo argued that as per the law, forcible acquisition by the government resulted in compensation whereas as per the value of the land acquired, it opted for land for land compensation.