Protests after 3,500 squatters evicted from disputed land

A house being demolished at a private farm in Msambweni, Voi town. [Renson Mnyamwezi, Standard]

More than 3,500 squatters have been evicted from a private farm in Msambweni, Voi town despite President William Ruto’s government pledge to intervene.

The forcible eviction was conducted by senior officials of Sparkle International Limited, which claims to own the land, and a contingent of police officers drawn from Voi, Mwatate, Wundanyi and Taveta sub-counties

The exercise was condemned by ODM leader Raila Odinga, Wiper party leader Kalonzo Musyoka and the county leadership led by Governor Andrew Mwadime.

An estimated Sh200 million worth of property was destroyed during the eviction.

The governor and Senator Jones Mwaruma termed the eviction a “state-sponsored exercise."

The leaders said the squatters were among the victims of historical land injustices in Taita Taveta County where 86 per cent of the land area is occupied by private farms.

Most residents claimed that large landowners were being favoured while the squatters have been neglected since independence.

In the past, this resentment has led to invasions and occupation, as witnessed on private property at Machungwani and AFC farms in Taveta Sub County.

“There is nothing we can do for now, and there is no one to turn to as senior national government officials in the county and Nairobi have kept quiet on the matter as locals continue to suffer from widespread displacement,” protested the governor yesterday.

Mwadime, Mwaruma, MPs Danson Mwashako (Wundanyi) and Abdi Chome (Voi) claimed that the acquisition of the land is shrouded in secrecy.

While condemning the eviction, the governor said it was carried out with full knowledge of senior Interior Ministry officials who refused to take his calls when he sought intervention to stop the bulldozers from destroying homes.

He revealed that local leaders met officials of Sparkle International Limited, among other senior state officials, where they drew up an elaborate plan to compensate the landowner and settle the landless.

“We were looking for funds to pay the land and settle the landless, but to our surprise, the inhumane eviction was done while negotiations were still going on," he said.

"I called State House and the County Commissioner’s offices but my calls went unanswered. The poor people who were displaced by floods recently, have now been kicked out with the elderly and children bearing the brunt. Some of the vulnerable groups have been taken to the hospital and admitted for shock,” noted the governor.

In Mombasa, Kenya Land Alliance (KLA) Coast coordinator Nagib Shamshan condemned the Voi evictions and called on the government to initiate negotiations with land owners across the region to avert the inhumane eviction of squatters.

Shamshan revealed that most of the squatters were waiting for compensation from the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), to buy land.

He said there was a need to adhere to the United Nations charter on evictions and the rule of law to avoid creating a humanitarian crisis through the destruction of homes for the poor.

"The government should encourage negotiations where there is a land dispute involving squatters and ensure alternative settlement. There are many farms near urban areas at the Coast where squatters have settled and are in conflict with owners. The Ministry of Lands should establish a ground status of the land to address the disputes," he said.

A bulldozer brings down a house erected at a private farm in Msambweni, Voi town. [Renson Mnyamwezi, Standard]

In Mombasa county, thousands of squatters face eviction from Kwa Bulo, Nguu Tatu, Hussein Dairy, Junda, Swaleh Nguru farm, Barawani farm and Msambuli farm, among others.

In Kilifi county, squatters face eviction from John Keen farm, Mwamunga farm at Mtwapa, industrial park land at Msumarini and Malindi International Airport.

Hundreds of squatters also face eviction from the Kwale International Company (Kiscol) in Kwale County and the Lake Jipe in Taita Taveta county.

On Sunday, Chome wondered why the president was mistreating the hustlers who voted for him in the last general election.

“Is this the way State House can treat the hustlers? The owners of the land have avoided us and went ahead to destroy the houses of the poor people,” he said.

Mwashako termed the eviction inhumane. He claimed that the security officials were compromised to carry out the eviction.

The Wiper MP said the county leadership would take stock of its stolen land for action.

Mwashako, who is also the Coast Parliamentary Group chairman (CPG), condemned the Kenya Kwanza administration for failing to address historical land injustices meted against the locals despite promising to do so.

He wondered why the Head of State did not condemn the Msambweni eviction court order as he did on his Kenya Kwanza administration’s policies which were stopped by the High Court.

“The president said the judges are bad and corrupt and why did his government implement the Msambweni Court order. This is not right, and we will not condone this,” stated Mwashako.

Addressing the Press in Msabweni yesterday, he said they had called State House in vain. “Police said they were acting on instruction from above, and this will not go unpunished,” said Mwashako.

Mwaruma said police supervised the inhumane evictions instead of the government looking for alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.

The condemnation of police action comes at a time when Inspector General Japhet Koome, has directed an inquiry into the land eviction that occurred on Saturday.

Koome recalled Taita-Taveta and the sub-county police commander to Kenya Police Headquarters to pave way for the inquiry.

"Action will be taken against any officer found culpable for carrying out the demolition without the necessary authorization," the IG said yesterday.

Mwaruma said that there is a petition on the disputed land before the Senate.

“The disputed plot was meant for the construction of a Bata Shoe Company, but the Commissioner of Lands went ahead to change its land use and sold it at only Sh12 million,” he said.

He urged the government to investigate the Commissioner of Lands for illegally changing the land use of the plot.

Mwaruma warned that they will not allow any project to take place on the disputed plot.

Police keep watch as a bulldozer demolishes a house erected at a private farm in Msambweni, Voi town. [Renson Mnyamwezi, Standard]

Assembly Lands Committee chairperson Anisa Mwakio said the controversial area is home to the boda boa and mama mboga, who have now been deprived of their land and economic rights.

“Those evicted are the same people who voted for the president in the belief that their lives will change. Now they have been rendered homeless and poor by the government they put in power,” said the ODM legislator.

Ms Mwakio warned that the assembly will not approve any development plan of the investor.

Kaloleni ward MCA, where Msambweni falls, said they were ready for dialogue with the investor before the eviction.

He said graves, among other property belonging to the people, were destroyed.

There was little resistance from over 3500 squatters’ as the Sparkle Properties Limited officials, with two bulldozers, descended on the residential and commercial buildings, flattening them from as early as 7.45 am.

The disputed prime land, measuring 54.26 hectares, lies along the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) line at Msambweni village.

It has been at the centre of conflict between the squatters and the investors, with both claiming ownership.

Some of the affected residents said they had not been served with a court order to evict them.

When The Standard arrived at the scene, desperate squatters, were seen removing their belongings from the demolished houses.

“This is the first face of the eviction, and we will continue with the exercise until we secure our property,” said one of the company’s officials, who promised to address the Press later.

The eviction comes days after the governor and local MPs met the Interior Principal Secretary Raymond Omollo, where they implored the government to intervene.

According to those who attended the meeting in November, Mr Omollo advised the county leadership to negotiate with the land owner to find a lasting solution to the problem.

“The PS advised the county leadership to negotiate with the land owner, but politics derailed the negotiations,” said a senior county land official who attended the meeting.

In October last year, Chome implored President Ruto to come to the rescue of the squatters, who have been living on the disputed land for years.