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Nine demand removal of trailers from “their airstrip” land

By Ignatius Odanga | June 19th 2020

Busia Airstrip that has been turned to a holding bay for the heavy commercial vehicles and locals are worried that the area could be a looming hotspot for the Covid-19 since truckers have turned it to a brothel at night. [Ignatius Odanga, Standard]

Nine individuals, who claim to be genuine owners of Busia airstrip land, now want trucks that are currently parked on the controversial parcel removed.

There are at least 200 heavy commercial vehicles parked at the airstrip waiting for clearance by Ugandan authorities before they can cross the border.

The nine have vowed to dig trenches at the entrance to the facility to prevent more trailers from being parked at the airstrip.

James Wairagu, Joseph Gitu, Millicent Wakonyo, Mary Wanjiru, Samwel Ndungu, Duncan Ndungu, John Kimari, Stephen Kanjuru and Teresia Wambui sought orders from Environment and Lands Court (ELC) in Busia barring Busia County from interfering with the land.

The then ELC Judge in Busia SM Kibunja granted the applicants orders restricting Busia County, its employees, contractors, agents or persons working under the devolved unit from interfering with the land until the determination of the suit the nine have filed.

In his ruling, the judge noted that the applicants produced copies of title documents to the suit lands and extract of a parliamentary debate that clearly showed they had a prima facie case.

“That temporary injunction is hereby issued against the respondents, their servants, employees, contractors, agents or persons working under them or under their instructions from interfering with the applicants' rights as registered proprietors of the suit lands, Bukhayo/Bugengi/3643, 3544, 3645, 3647, 3081, 3078, 3077, 3079, 3080, 1604 and 2789 pending the hearing and determination of this suit,” ordered Kibunja.

The decision by the county and national government to redirect heavy commercial vehicles to be parked at the airstrip due to lack of trailer park has irked the nine petitioners. They are accusing the county and national governments of going against the court orders by allowing trucks to be parked at the airstrip.

"The county was barred from using the land for any purpose until the case at the High Court is determined, but they have gone ahead to direct truck drivers to park there,” said Gitu.

In 2015, the county and Transitional Authority (TA) filed an application at the Environment and Lands Court in Busia before Justice Antony Kaniaru seeking that National Lands Commission (NLC) be enjoined in the matter.

Case ruling

Kaniaru, however, dismissed the application by the county and TA on grounds that the two failed to demonstrate the merit of enjoining the NLC as a party in the suit. The case is at the High Court in Busia and the ruling is slated for September 27.

In 2003, Busia Airstrip hit the headlines following a plane crash that claimed lives of the then Labour Minister Mohammed Khalif and two pilots. The plane hit Mamba House located across the runway shortly after taking off.

Jubilee Secretary General Raphael Tuju, who was then minister of Tourism, Linah Kilimo, then working in the Office of the President and Martha Karua, then Minister for Water, escaped death by a whisker.

The facility would later be fenced off by the government and declared a no-go zone as a probe was launched to establish the cause of the mishap. Soon after investigation had been concluded, people emerged with title deeds claiming ownership of the Busia Airstrip land.

They later subdivided the parcels and sold them off to private developers. Currently hotels, a factory and residential homes sit on the Busia Airstrip land.

A section of the airstrip is being used for maize farming. The place has also turned into a haven for criminals with several boda boda operators killed and their bodies dumped there.

Last year, then Busia County Commissioner Jacob Narengo dismissed the claims that the land belonged to individuals. He said the land where the airstrip is located was government land. He added when the right time for upgrading of the airstrip comes those who encroached on the land would be evicted.

“The land is still public property and records are there showing the land belongs to the national government,” said Narengo. “When the right time comes to revamp the airstrip those who have encroached on the land will be evicted,” he added.

The airstrip has been used as parking for transit trucks to allow drivers undergo Covid-19 tests at the border point before entering Uganda.

“We are waiting for communication from the Kenya Airports Authority and the Kenya Highways Authority over the proposal to have the land converted to a holding bay for trailers,” said Narengo.

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