Egerton's agro-city park in Mau area sparks fresh fears for planners and land grabbers

Egerton University Njoro Main Campus. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

President William Ruto's announcement that Egerton University will host Nakuru County's first agro-city park on its expansive Ngongogeri farm has put the institution into focus.

This follows revelations that private developers had grabbed a huge portion of its land in collusion with corrupt Ministry of Lands officials.

Nakuru has over the past few years witnessed violent clashes in Njoro, Naivasha, Mai Mahiu, Gilgil, and parts of Molo and Kuresoi areas as individuals and communities clashed over land ownership-related disputes.

Egerton's main campus, comprising teaching facilities, an administration block, laboratories and staff houses is established on Tatton farm measuring 740 acres. The institution also owns the neighbouring Ngongogeri Farm, used for cattle rearing, and cultivation of maize, barley and wheat among other agricultural activities.

According to statistics obtained from the institution, when it was doing well, the farm had put 1,000 acres under maize crop, 500 acres under wheat, another 500 acres under barley and 100 acres under horticulture farming.

Njoro Golf Club

It had a herd of 430 Holstein Friesian and Ayrshire cows, 430 sheep, four units of poultry-broiler chicken with each unit comprising 500 birds, and had deployed the latest farming technology in the running of the farm.

The university is located in the Njoro sub-county, and on one end neighbours Njoro Golf Club whose part of the land was also grabbed and demarcated into plots.

It also neighbours a portion of land that had been set aside for Njoro Airstrip, and which was also taken up by private developers. Egerton University, a premier agricultural training institute was founded as a Farm School in 1939 by Lord Maurice Egerton of Tatton, a British national who settled in Kenya in the 1920s.

In March, this year, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) moved to Environment and Land Court seeking to recover 1,136 acres of university land from grabbers.

The land was hived off from the Ngongogeri Farm, which neighbours the eastern part of Mau forest complex. Egerton came into the international limelight in 1995 when Ngongogeri Farm was selected as the most suitable site for the 42nd World Ploughing Contest which brought competitors from across the world.

Over 300 foreign visitors participated in the global event which was being held in the country for the first time. The contest was the second event to be held in an African country.

The anti-graft agency in documents filed in court said land worth Sh1.6 billion was grabbed by private developers in collusion with corrupt officials in the Lands Ministry.

The grabbing of public land around the Mau forest complex, which neighbours the university land prompted the previous government to place caveats on land.

Much of the land affected by the caveat was irregularly allocated within the region and which resulted in violent clashes between different communities over ownership rights.

Recently, leaders in Nakuru County, led by Governor Susan Kihika, and Njoro MP Charity Kathambi have been urging the State to lift the caveats, even before the land ownership disputes have been adequately addressed.

Last year, the Nakuru County Assembly enacted the Land Management Bill 2021, which was meant to regularise land ownership and development to forestall land disputes, illegal allotment and shady dealing. The assembly's Lands, Housing and Physical Planning Committee chairperson Stephen Ng'ethe said the new legislation was crafted to resolve perennial land-related conflicts in the county.

Mr Ng'ethe stated that the law would ensure sanity in the land tenure and adjudication system in the county and outlined procedures and standards for development control, dispute resolution and regulation of land use.

The Ogiek community, which has been fighting to regain its land from influential personalities settled in the part of the eastern Mau complex is among the interested groups that had obtained court orders barring the State from alienating the forest land and issuing title deeds to new beneficiaries.

Second defendant

The EACC, through Lawyer Brigid Maina, told the court that part of the university land was fraudulently acquired by a private firm, Cantie HA, which then transferred it to one Kipruto Kemboi, the second defendant in the case.

The matter was filed before Justice Lynette Omollo of the Environment and Land Court. The court heard that the land initially belonged to Lord Egerton of Tatton who later gifted it to Egerton Agricultural College, the predecessor of Egerton University, in 1960.

EACC told the court that even though the land is currently in the possession of the second defendant, accused of grabbing the land, is still in possession of the title sued Cantie HA Ltd as the first defendant and Kipruto Kemboi, and the Chief Land Registrar.

Besides the recovery of the land, EACC was also finalising the legal aspect of recommending to the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to prosecute land officials and other individuals involved in the fraudulent acquisition of the land L.R.No 528 Njoro.

The suit property was among several parcels of land that were vested in the university for its agricultural activities and research, the EACC told the court.

The EACC forensic investigator Maryline Kemei in a supporting affidavit in court stated that investigations revealed that on November 20, 1961, Cantie HA Ltd fraudulently occasioned a lease to be issued over L.R No 528 Njoro measuring 1,136 acres to be registered in its favour.

Though Egerton University currently occupies the property, Kipruto Kemboi had the title documents and there is a high possibility of him disposing of, transferring, or dealing in a manner likely to defeat efforts of the commission to recover the same, the EACC said.

An official of the Ogiek Welfare Council, Mr Joseph Kimaiyo Towett, said land grabbers who encroached on part of the land neighbouring Egerton University's Ngongogeri near the Mau complex named the new settlement as Ngongogeri Settlement. "They deliberately used the name Ngongogeri settlement scheme to hide their intentions of grabbing forest land. This is how the university also ended up losing a portion of its land," Towett said.

An administrator at the university said varsity land was grabbed around 1995 when massive grabbing of public land was taking place in the Njoro area and Mau Complex.

The official said a number of senior administrators at the university could not raise the alarm at the time the institution's land was being grabbed as they had also been allocated land in the Mau Complex area.

These university administrators were also close associates of senior government officials who were implicated in the grabbing of Mau forest land, the university employee added.

Ngongogeri settlement

Mr Towett said Ogiek Community was evicted from its ancestral land neighbouring Egerton University's Ngongogeri land between 1995 and 1997 when well-connected individuals in the former regime engaged in wanton grabbing of Mau forest land.

He said 1,543 parcels of land were hived off from the forest and allocated to individuals in what came to be known as Ngongogeri Settlement.

Kimaiyo said a former State House Comptroller, Wilson Chepkwony, and another powerful individual were among those allocated land in the Ngongeri Settlement.

The Ogiek Community official in documents filed in court also implicated a former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) and his wife as among other beneficiaries.

Also listed in the grabbers' list were former cabinet ministers Joseph Kamotho and Kipkalya Kones - both deceased, and some former MPs, and provincial administration officials including a former governor and senior officials in the Lands Ministry.

Mr Towett added that the Ogiek Community also filed in court copies of the Ndung'u Commission report which had been formed by President Mwai Kibaki to investigate into irregular allocation of public land.

He added that the community also furnished the court with a copy of Task Force on Mau Complex Settlement which was formed by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and was headed by Professor Owino.

The task force also faulted the State for irregularly excising part of the Mau Forest Complex and denying the Ogiek Community its rights to land allocation in the forest which was their natural habitat and native land.

The Ogiek Community later took its land dispute to the African Commission which directed that the matter be heard at the Arusha Court, which directed Kenya to resettle the community. Kimaiyo said the community had protested the excision of 35,301 acres of land to create Likia, Sururu and Teret settlements in Mauche Ward, and the creation of Sigotik and Nessuit settlements in Nessuit Ward.

The Ogiek leader added that the government also illegally excised forest land to create Ngongogeri, Marioshoni and Kapsita settlements which were in Marioshoni ward.

Towett said the Ogiek Community regards Nessuit and Marioshoni wards as their native land.

He said the recent directives by President Ruto and his deputy Rigathi Gachagua that all caveats on land within Mau areas be lifted were politically motivated and that the government had not made any efforts to resolve land conflicts in the areas.

Towett said the previous three regimes had been unable to adequately address the issue of land grabbing in the Mau Complex area.

Another Ogiek Community leader, Joseph Letuya, who was the first applicant in the case filed by the minority ethnic group against the government said his land was allocated to the late State House Comptroller, Wilson Chepkwony after he was forcibly evicted.

The second applicant in the case, Mr Patrick Bett Kuresoi also told the court that his land was allocated to senior government officials.

Recently, Egerton University Chancellor Narendra Raval said the institution had finalised plans to build an agro-industrial park on 200 acres at the institution's Ngongogeri Farm.

He said the intention was to attract investors into establishing food processing plants that will add value to agricultural produce. Dr Raval added that the establishment of the agro-industrial part was tailored to create employment opportunities, improve livelihoods in the agriculture-dependent regions, reduce post-harvest losses, contribute to food security and accelerate growth in the country.

The institution, Raval said was partnering with State agencies, the Nakuru County Government and the private sector to enhance the agro-processing sector, processed food, beverages, and livestock products as its one of the engines of spurring economic growth.

The State has pledged to release Sh1 billion for the construction of the agro-city park while the county will provide 500 acres of land for the project.

Governor Kihika said the industrial park will provide an aggregation centre for farm produce to solve the problem of post-harvest losses. The industrial park will provide farmers with aggregation centres for their farmer harvests to solve the problem of post-harvest wastage," she said.

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