DP William Ruto heads back to Coast amid row over Basil Criticos land

Deputy President William Ruto. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

 Deputy President William Ruto returns to Taita-Taveta County today to drum up support for his presidential bid.

The tour comes barely a week after the UDA Presidential candidate addressed the county Economic Forum at the Lumo Community Sanctuary where he confirmed that he bought over 2,500 acre of disputed land from the former Taveta MP Basil Criticos.

The controversy surrounding the land has caused a lot of heat in the political divide with some politicians claiming it was illegally allocated to the DP and should be reverted back to the locals.

Former Governor John Mruttu confirmed the tour yesterday and said Dr Ruto will address two political rallies in the county.

“It is true that the DP is touring the county today. He (Ruto) will address a political rally in Taveta town at 1pm and thereafter in Mwatate town at 3pm,” the former Governor revealed to The Standard yesterday.

The DP has been making frequent visits to the county that has overwhelmingly been voting for the ODM leader who is also the Azimio la Umoja Oka Alliance presidential aspirant, Raila Odinga.

Dr Ruto has vowed to wrestle the county and the entire Coast region from Mr Odinga come to the August polls.

His visit comes at a time when the thorny squatter menace has become a hot topic in the region with both the two leading presidential contenders offering the electorate what they claim to be a comprehensive solution to the land problem.

Dr Ruto has joined the league of large scale landowners in Coastal County, where 86 percent of the total land area is occupied by sprawling private farms.

The DP secretly acquired the vast property in the run-up to the last general election from former Taveta MP Basil Criticos, for an undisclosed amount, becoming one of the largest property owners in a county where a majority of the populace live as squatters.

Former Taveta MP Basil Criticos. [Renson Mnyamwezi, Standard]

"I sold this land to the DP two years ago," Criticos told The Standard in a recent interview.  But when pressed to state how much Ruto bought the property the former MP quipped: "That is our secret and I cannot tell you that."

Ruto told the economic forum: “I am not a stranger in Taita-Taveta County as I own land in the region. I bought land from the former Taveta MP Basil Criticos after he failed to service a loan from AFC. He approached me and I bought the land.  I am one of your own and we should walk together. If you vote for me, you are voting for one of your own.”

His acquisition of the farm has however elicited mixed reactions from locals, with some supporting the move as a huge investment in the region while others criticize it in equal measure.

When he bought the land, it had scores of squatters inside who were evicted for illegally occupying the private property. 

Ruto troubles with the community started last year when he fenced in a watering point locking them and their livestock out.

Most local residents resent large scale landowners accusing them of receiving favours by virtue of their wealth while they have been neglected as squatters since the end of British colonialism. Some consider the DP's acquisition of the property as an entrenchment of this post-colonial neglect.

Ruto’s allies defended his investment saying he bought the land from a willing-seller-willing buyer.