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Squatters demand update on Waitiki land purchase

THE COUNTIES
By Patrick Beja | May 25th 2015

Squatters at the disputed Waitiki Farm in Likoni, now say the suspension of Lands Cabinet Secretary Charity Ngilu last month has dashed their hope of resettlement.

They said Ms Ngilu's temporary removal from the Cabinet has stalled efforts to revive discussions aimed at resolving the long-running dispute between them and owner of the 930-acre property, Evanson Kamau Waitiki.

Ngilu was suspended on the allegations that she tried to inflate the cost of the compensation to Waitiki for monetary gain. Ngilu has denied the claims.

The squatters, who spoke to The Standard at the weekend, said they believed Ngilu was committed to solving the stand-off and want to know the status of the negotiations to acquire the land.

They further said nobody in the Government seems interested in the matter anymore, and expressed hope that she would be cleared of the allegations and reinstated.

Critical stage

Hassan Ng'anzi, a village elder, said there has been no communication from the Lands ministry since Ngilu left the scene yet negotiations to acquire the land for their resettlement had already reached a critical stage.

Before Ngilu was suspended, there was even talk of a plan to deploy surveyors to the area to start the demarcations.

"We can say that Mrs Ngilu absence has been a major blow to us because no information has been forthcoming from the Lands ministry regarding the acquisition of the farm by the Government," said Gao, who is also the chairman of the Likoni Community Development Association.

The contested farm is occupied by an estimated 120,000 squatters whom the Jubilee administration has promised to formally settle.

Village elders are planning to meet later this week to discuss several issues including the silence by the Lands ministry about their resettlement. "We were shocked when Ngilu's name featured in the list of shame. What is even more shocking is that there has been no information regarding our fate since," said Ali Simba, another village elder who spoke during a meeting attended by Ngilu and National Land Commission (NLC) chairman Dr Muhammad Swazuri at Caltex grounds in Likoni on February 15 this year.

Salim Zula, a resident, however said squatters should be patient, noting that there was no ulterior motive in the inclusion of Ngilu's name in the list of shame since it was prepared by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission. "I urge for patience among the squatters as Ms Ngilu seeks to be cleared of wrongdoing," Zula said.

Likoni MP Masoud Mwahima, said he has personally pleaded with the President to settle the squatters on the farm and had responded positively to the request.

The MP, who hosted Ngilu several times in Likoni last year and in the period leading to her suspension, said Ngilu's absence from office will not derail the resettlement plans.

"I have personally met President Uhuru and requested him to ensure that the Government resettles the squatters on the Waikiti Farm and I urge them to remain calm," Ms Mwahima said.

Since the Jubilee administration took over, Ngilu met with the squatters and local leaders on numerous occasions to reiterate the Government's commitment to acquire the farm and resettle them.

Fruitful talks

During the February 15 meeting convened by Mombasa Governor Hassan Ali Joho, Ngilu and National Land Commission (NLC) Chairman Muhammad Swazuri declared that the Waitiki land had been acquired by the Government for the squatters after fruitful negotiations.

The news was received with joy by hundreds of squatters, but Waitiki denied ever reaching a deal with the Government over acquisition of the land the following day.

"I have not entered into negotiation with either Mrs Ngilu or Dr Swazuri. The last time I met Dr Swazuri was in 2013 when he called me to his office to inform me of the Government's intention to enter into negotiation with me over the land," Waitiki explained.

He accused the CS and NLC of spreading falsehoods and propaganda, and suggested that the State had willfully allowed squatters to live on the land, ignoring court orders since 2001. Ngilu had announced that the squatters would be required to pay only a token fee for surveying of the land to be indicated in the letters of offer.

She said the farm would be subdivided and the titles deeds would be part of the three millions land ownership documents the Government has pledged to issue to Kenyans in the next five years.

The CS had promised the survey work on the Waitiki farm would be done by a team from her ministry and the Mombasa county government and was to be completed by December this year. Ngilu said President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto were behind the push and eventual success of the Waitiki farm acquisition.

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