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Big losers in Mark Too's land ruling vow to fight back

By Silah Koskei | March 6th 2017
Former Assistant Minister in former president Daniel Moi's government Jesse Mais explains ownership of his piece of land that squatters have laid claim to in a tussle with former politician the late Mark Too. Mais stated that the squatters claim to ownership of a 25,000 acre piece of land was null and void. 26-02-2017. PHOTOS BY: KEVIN TUNOI

Prominent personalities and major institutions could lose billions of shillings following the recent High Court ruling that denied the late Mark Too's family ownership of a 25,000 hectares (61,776 acres) parcel in Eldoret.

The ruling, which cancelled title deeds for eight parcels of the prime land, has caused anxiety among the at least 600 individuals who had acquired part of the farm.

Institutions that sit on the land in contention, including Moi University School of Law, hotels and Eldoret International Airport, are among the key facilities that could be affected by cancellation of the title deeds.

Influential individuals who acquired huge chunks of the land have been engaging in tree planting and cattle rearing. They are planning to go to court to protect their property.

Led by former Eldoret South MP Jesse Mais, who holds 80 acres, they insist that they acquired the land legally and have vowed to fight any move to take it away from them.

Sirikwa Squatter's Chairperson Benjamin Rono claimed other prominent individuals own hundreds of acres of land there.

"Some of the landowners are influential leaders in society. It is our prayer that the court gives us an opportunity to own parcels where our forefathers were forcibly evicted by the white settler community in the early 1920's and where they were employed as workers and labourers," said Rono.

Mais maintains that he bought his land legally, contrary to claims that it belongs to the over 800 squatters.

Speaking at his home in Ngara, Kapseret Constituency, Mais, a former assistant minister, said together with over 100,000 other people, they bought the land from East Africa Tanning and Extraction Company (EATEC).

"I own 80 acres which I personally bought with my savings while serving as an assistant minister. It is surprising that the squatters claim they want to take away my plot simply because the court ruled in their favour. Where were they when I went to the EATEC offices expressing interest in this parcel?" he posed.

He added: "I followed due process in 2002 and accompanied by my lawyers, we were given an offer letter where we began paying 40 per cent of the total amount of money. Later on we were provided with a letter of occupation, consent, and finally given the title."

The former MP, who engages in dairy farming, said the process was based on willing buyer-willing seller following a tri-partite agreement between the State and the colonial masters and wondered why the squatters would want to claim the land.

"Ask those (squatters) to show you where their houses were erected on the land in question and where have they been until now that they want to come and displace us. I am not alone, Moi University, the airport and other influential leaders have parcels in the expansive farm that belonged to EATEC," he added.

It has emerged that the Government acquired part of the land compulsorily in 2000 to build Moi Eldoret International Airport.

Mais said buyers of the land will hold a meeting to react to the court's decision that ruled in favour of the squatters.

"We shall table all the documents to prove that we are the legitimate owners of the land because we do not want to hide anything from the public," he explained.

Already, residents of Kapseret under Ngeria/Pioneer block are preparing to move to court to block the ruling that requires them to vacate the land estimated to be worth Sh100 billion.

Other prominent figures during the Kanu regime are also said to own part of the land.

Lawyer Steve Biko for Mark Too's family said they had already obtained a stay order and injunction that prevents the squatters from invading the land.

"The mother title is in Mark Too's name and the stay order application is a blanket for everyone because they accrue the right from the former politician's right," said Biko.

In his ruling on February 9, Eldoret Judge Justice Antony Ombwayo ruled in favour of the squatters and directed the cancellation of all the titles emanating from LR 9606, 9607, 9608, 745, 742/2, 7739/7R, 10793 and 10794.

LR 9606 had resultant ten subdivisions while LR 9607, 9608 are now known as Pioneer and Ngeria blocks and some residents have constructed residential estates after the land changed hands from EATEC.

Eldoret Lawyer Amos Magut said the fate of those affected by the ruling depends on the appeal or the stay order application by the affected parties.

"The individuals whose property is in question may challenge in court that they were not aware through innocent purchaser for value but again the ruling might lie on the verdict given by the High Court that nullified all titles involving the land," he said

He noted that the squatter's case is one among many that are in the Eldoret court and said the Judiciary should provide a balance between customs and the current law as per the Constitution.

With the land having changed hands among several parties and undergone multiple sub-divisions, a protracted legal battle involving different parties could be in the offing between the land sellers and buyers.

"The challenge currently is the distrust between the buyer and the seller of a given land compared to the way our forefathers used to handle issues. Others will agree to sign but will come and challenge in court that they were not of sound mind when they appended their signatures, thus challenging the earlier agreement," said the lawyer.

Stephen Tanui, a squatter, recalled the tough times they have endured in their quest for justice; a journey that saw him and other five people arrested for trespass.

"We spent two years behind bars in 2000 after we were arrested grazing our animals on our land. It is the human rights groups that came to our aid and we were later released,"he said.

Tanui, 72, said they at one time were charged with stealing trees and trespassing on the farm but the case was later dismissed for lack of evidence.

The squatters moved to court in 2007 to sue the Commissioner of Lands, Chief Registrar of Title Deeds, Director of Lands Adjudication and Settlement, Director of Survey, District Land Officer (Uasin Gishu), Lonrho Agribusiness East Africa Company, Mark Too, David Korir, Highland surveyors and Kennedy Kubasu, a private surveyor, for allegedly propagating the grabbing of their land.

But even before squatters reclaimed the land which the court said they had a legitimate expectation to own after former President Daniel Moi allocated them through a presidential decree in 1998, Too's family quickly moved to Court of Appeal to make an application for a stay order.

The late politician's family also sought an injunction to bar the squatters from accessing the parcels.

The fate of the people who bought the land now lies in the case before the Court of Appeal.

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