Decades old controversy surrounding 5,000 acre Ndabibi land

Members of Mwana Mwireri farm in Ndabibi Naivasha visit a section of the 343 acres after a court ruled in their favor after a 25-year-old dispute. [Antony Gitonga, Standard]

The declaration by Naivasha MP Jane Kihara that President William Ruto owns 5,000 acres of land in Ndabibi which was part of the Agricultural Development Corporation (ADC) property has added a new twist to the over two-decade old controversy.

Several farmers' groups and private developers have over the years been embroiled in a row with ADC over land ownership which they purport to have purchased from the State agency.

Former Education Permanent Secretary Benjamin Kipkulei is among private developers who have accused farmers groups of encroaching on his land which he allegedly purchased from the ADC.

The Naivasha MP who is also the vice-chairperson of the Lands Committee in the National Assembly told the public that the president acquired the land from Mr Kipkulei who purchased it from ADC.

Mwana Mwireri Farmers Company, Ndabithi Farmers Society, and New Matanya are among the groups that claim to have purchased land from the ADC.

They accused the agency management of encroaching on their legally acquired land.

Nakuru Senator Tabitha Karanja has demanded a statement from the Senate Standing Committee of Land, Environment, and Natural Resources over what she termed as blatant and unlawful eviction of families from their land in Ndabibi.

In her statement to the Senate, Karanja claimed that General Service Unit (GSU) officers have been deployed to Ndabibi to evict families from their homes.

She alleged that houses were torched and granaries looted by the officers who unleashed terror on the helpless landowners.

The farmers' groups have accused some unscrupulous government officials working in cohorts with local leaders and ADC officials of instigating their eviction over claims that they had illegally encroached on the land.

At least 100 residents have been arrested since December 2023, and charged in courts outside Nakuru county for allegedly invading private land and destroying fence valued at Sh2.2 million.

Last week, the Naivasha MP in conjunction with government officials convened a meeting at the Gathundia trading centre to discuss the thorny issue of land ownership of the ADC farm.

At the charged meeting, Kihara declared those claiming ownership of the land imposters with no genuine documents.

She called on the residents to respect President Ruto, and dared anybody with  legitimate claim to land in Ndabibi ADC Farm and which had been grabbed by the President to step forward. None did.

Neither Ruto nor State House have responded to Kihara's claims, but the issue has caused more confusion in the land ownership controversy.

The immediate former Nakuru Governor Lee Kinyanjui and his predecessor Kinuthia Mbugua’s attempts to resolve the land row in the area did not bear fruit.

Former Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya, successive Nakuru County Commissioners, and Naivasha Sub-County Deputy County Commissioners held numerous meetings in the area between the farmer's groups and the ADC management in attempts to resolve the dispute.

ADC has claimed that part of its land had been illegally grabbed by the farmers' groups and other private developers.

Last year, the ADC managing director Mohamed Bulle, said they recovered 3,000 acres that had been grabbed by different groups in the ADC Ndabibi Farm.

Colonial owner

The history of Ndabibi ranch dates way back to colonial times when the land situated in the northern west of Lake Naivasha, totaling over 40,000 acres belonged to Gilbert Colville, a British settler.

Mr Coville possessed property including Kikopey ranch, all totaling 265,000 acres.

The land stretched to Naivasha, Gilgil, and Rumuruti in Laikipia county.

Lariak ranch, the largest of his property situated in Laikipia measured 160,000 acres.

The rancher, who was regarded as one of the wealthiest and most powerful landowners in Kenya had a herd of 20,000 indigenous cattle.

He was among the founders of the Kenya Meat Commission together with Lord Delamere, among other influential settlers.

In 1943, Coville married Lady Diana Delves Broughton, who later got married to Tom Delamere.

Coville died in 1966 and in his will, he had said some of his workers should be allocated land in Ndabibi Ranch.

Lady Diana inherited Coville’s property and that of Tom Delamere, upon his demise.

When Kenya attained independence, the government established the ADC in 1965 through an Act of Parliament which was meant to facilitate land transfer from European settlers to locals.

The law also mandated ADC to serve as a stabilizing factor to assist in maintaining good quality livestock and ensuring continuity in breeding programmes in select farms.

ADC owned huge tracts of land in Nakuru, Laikipia, Kilifi, Tana River, and Trans Nzoia among other places in the country.

With the successful completion of the land transfer programme, the revision of the objectives of the corporation resulted in the Act of Parliament of 1986.

Its mandate was redefined to include the promotion and execution of agricultural schemes and reconstruction in Kenya.

The state agency was mandated to initiate and assist in the expansion of agricultural undertaking enterprises.

It is inline with this Act of Parliament that ADC runs its operations across the country.

However, in the early 1990s, the state agency lost huge tracts of its land which were taken by the Kanu regime and allocated to influential personalities in the government, Judiciary, military and other arms of the government under the pretext of settling landless people.

For instance, ADC lost 32,000 acres of land in Ngata ADC Farm in the outskirts of Nakuru town, which was sub-divided and allocated to influential personalities in the Kanu administration.

In the mid-1990s, President Daniel Moi, ordered that 10,000 acres of land be hived from the ADC farm for resettlement of the Kikuyu, Maasai, and Kalenjin communities after the 1992 - politically instigated ethnic clashes that rocked parts of Rift Valley Province.

The Gikuyu who had been uprooted from their farms in Enoosupukia in Narok County were settled at the Moi Ndabi phase one, with the Maasai community and the Kalenjins settled in phases two and three respectively.

The Mwana Mwireri Farmers Company whose members are settled in a portion of the ADC Farm argues that it legally purchased the land from the corporation.

They claim to have been issued with genuine land ownership documents. 

Ndabithi Farmers Company was formed by Coville's former workers to enable them to acquire a portion of the land.

The white settler had promised them land and had indicated the same in his will which was in the custody of Dentons Hamilton Harrison and Mathews Advocates.

They were required to raise h200,000 to cater for the cost of the transfer of land and infrastructural development on the land.

The farms' hands initially raised Sh40,000 leaving a balance of sh160,000 in the early 1970s.

This prompted Lady Diana Delamere to secure a mortgage, which she transferred to the farm hands and which they repaid before being allocated their portion.

The farmers had engaged Olweny Surveyors in the early 1980s to subdivide the 5,000-acre land, leaving 1,000 acres intact for communal farming to repay the loan.

The Ndabithi Farmers Company has been complaining that ADC management grabbed the 1,000 acres and sold it to Mwana Mwireri and the former PS.

Mwana Mwireri Farmers Company has also alleged that its land was grabbed by influential personalities.

Several suits have been filed in the Land and Environment Court in Nakuru where a judge raised questions over documents produced by Kipkulei claiming ownership of the land.

The former PS argued that he acquired additional land from people who had been allocated the same by ADC.

Recently, Maela MCA Jane Gituku accused some influential personalities of plotting to grab the ADC farm and illegally evict the residents.

The first term MCA said the individuals were invoking the president's name to intimidate the residents.

Gituku claimed that the ADC had illegally amalgamated the 1,000 acres belonging to Ndabithi Farmers Company to its land sparking conflict with the farmers.

The UDA ward rep claimed that in the suit filed in court, the judge found that Ndabithi Farmers Company had produced a memorandum of transfer after paying Sh200,000 while documents produced by a private developer lacked a common seal.

In March 2020, Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya directed ADC to issue title deeds to Mwana Mwireri Rironi Company after they produced documents indicating that the corporation had sold a portion of land to them.

But Ndabithi Farmers Company claimed that Mwana Mwireri and Kipkulei had encroached on its land.

The ADC managing director Bulle, however, said that all the groups had been shown their land boundaries, arguing that their claims had no basis.

He told the committee that there were instances where the National Land Commission had allocated ADC land to squatters but the court ruled in their (squatters) favour.

In September 2023, the government formed a task force to inquire the status of land owned by the ADC.

The committee draws its members from the office of the president, the National Land Commission, and the ADC management.