PAINS OF ELDORET PEASANT ‘LARGE-SCALE LANDOWNERS’

Wilson Busienei, chairman of 19 others fighting for their land rights in Eldoret, Kenya. PHOTO by Wilson Rotich

Wilson Busienei, chairman of 19 others fighting for their land rights in Eldoret, Kenya. PHOTO by Wilson Rotich


 

As the Ministry of Land comes second most corrupt institution according to Afrobarometer survey 2015, three old men in Eldoret have painfully been waiting to receive title deeds for the last 48 years. Corruption has smashed their dreams and continues to trouble their descendants for generations.
 

Progeny of the three old men, who are residents of Sangalo Estate, recently took to the streets demanding the resignation of Uasin Gishu County deputy governor Kiprotich Chemno, claiming that he wants to grab their land. Mr Chemno has, however, denied the allegations dismissing them as grabbers.
 

The enterprising old men, Kipngetich Tanui, Joseph Tuigeny and Kimorong Mibei, collectively bought 445 acres of land at Sangalo Estate, Eldoret West in 1967, but the government of Kenya is yet to recognise them as legal owners of the land.
 

According to the men, grand corruption in the land registry and local authorities, which have now been replaced by county governments, is the cause of their misery.
 

The trio bought the piece of land for Sh100,000 in 1967 and completed payments in 1968 as indicated in the tired receipts in their possession.
 

The High Court and the Court of Appeal have both ruled that the three and their children proceed with the process of acquiring tittle deeds.
 

However, their sons and daughters are anxiously waiting to enjoy the fruits of the expansive inheritance that has the old Uganda Road and a small river flowing across it. These features ordinarily are taken by their community as signs of blessings.
 

But the coming of Eldoret Pipeline Company that bought part of their land reversed the blessings to curses that have caused confusion and mayhem in the farm for ages.
 

Rhoda Jemutai Bitok, one of the daughters of th landowners. Photo by Wilson-Rotich

Rhoda Jemutai Bitok, one of the daughters of th landowners. Photo by Wilson-Rotich


 

Rhoda Jemutai Bitok is a daughter of one of the old men. She has been waiting for the land title for half a century. “I was 20 years old and newly-wed when the land was bought in 1967.
 

Now I am 68 and I have not seen the sweet dreams of our fathers realised. Our children and grandchildren are homeless; some were evicted the other day from the streets of Eldoret town by the county government.
 

When we plant any crops, the county authorities sent their officers to ravage our produce like locusts. When we try to erect shelters, they send the police to destroy the structures,” Rhoda said with sadness on her aging face.
 

Rhoda vividly remembers seeing their parents and partners struggle to raise funds to buy the land. “They decided to borrow a loan from an Asian businessman. Our parents got Sh100,000 which they paid a white settler for the 445 acres of land.”
 

Wilson Busienei is a son of one of the old men. He is currently the chairman of 19 sons and daughters who are the descendants of the three men, fighting for their rights to use the land. He says they began to process titles for the land in 1996, but have faced several political setbacks and shareholder rivalry.
 

“This battle has drained us both financially and psychologically,” he said while holding a copy of a P3 form, testifying how he had been assaulted pursuing his rights to the land that belong to their parents.
 

Their nightmare set sail in 1988 when a section of their partners decided behind their backs to sell 84 acres of the land to Eldoret Pipeline, under the Ministry of Transport and Communication. According to Busienei the splinter group was led by one Joseph Cheruiyot and Kimorong Mibei.
 

Mr Cheruiyot has been to several courts trying to take possession of the entire land but has never succeeded as indicated in the court documents in the custody of Mr Busienei.
 

“They lied to us that the portion was acquired by the government for free. But when we sought clarity from the then managing director, Eldoret pipeline, Mr Mbote, we realised that they had sold it for KSh 10, 875,000. The amount was allegedly divided among four of them – Peter Ngetich for Kipngetich Arap Tonui and Kimorong Mibei, and Joseph Cheruiyot for Jacob Arap Tuigeny and Florence Cheruiyot.
 

Florence Cheruiyot later said she was no longer part to the remaining portion of land. She tried to convince the others who had taken the money to do the same but they decided to fight for the remaining portion, even though they did not share the money with us,” said Mr Busienei.
 

Armed with a whole lot of documents, Mr Busienei said their inquiry revealed that the then Commissioner of Land J.R Njenga gazetted the 83 acres of land on February 9, 1988 and the receipts in their possession indicated the persons who were paid the money after the acquisition process was completed.
 

Mr Busienei said their search for the legal land documents became a battle between the two factions as from 1999 to 2013 when the High Court and the Court of Appeal ruled twice in their favour. “When we went to the Land Tribunal and eventually to courts, Florence Cheruiyot who was previously among our opponents became our witness because she spoke the truth.
 

“Initially when the High Court ordered that we proceed with subdivision, the then town clerk for the Eldoret Municipality rejected the map after it had been approved by the physical planning office and the district surveyor.
 

“We suspected it was a political interference from some local government councillors who wanted to grab our land. The twist of events led us to the Court of Appeal which again upheld our previous status. But now the deputy governor has vetoed our progress saying he wants to involve the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) in our case.” Mr Busienei said.
 

“Our opponents have promised the deputy governor some portion of the land. That is why he is interfering with our progress,” said Mr Busienei.
 

But Chemno, the deputy governor who earlier refused to comment on the matter has since denied the allegations saying Busienei and his team want to acquire the land inappropriately.
 

The 19 residents of Sangalo Estate are appealing to National Land Commission (NLC) chairman Muhammad Swazuri to intervene. They thank the Judiciary for giving them justice consistently and expeditiously. However, the justice has been delayed and denied by political corruption.
 

Chapter five articles 67(2) of the Constitution clearly mandates NLC with the responsibility of solving present and historical land injustices. However, the recent wrangles pitting the commission against the Land Cabinet secretary Charity Ngilu, who has since been suspended over alleged corruption, have impeded land registration, subdivision and transfers. Ms Ngilu has since been charged with obstruction of justice at a Nairobi court.
 

According to a member of the County Land Management Board in Uasin Gishu County who spoke to this reporter, the bone of contention between the Land secretary and the National Land Commission “is handling of renewable or expired land leases, compensation for land acquired by government and issuance of land titles. All these areas involved large sums of money and can be fertile grounds for corruption.”
 

However, the National Land Commission Act 2012 has placed all those responsibilities in the commission.
 

According to Carolyne Lagon of Afrobarometer, one in every three Kenyans has paid a bribe to the Land registry at least once in the past year.
 

The survey that polled 2,397 respondents in the 47 counties was released in April 2015 by Afrobarometer in conjunction with Transparency International.
 

The survey revealed that seven out of ten Kenyans feel that the government has not done much to fight corruption especially in the Ministry of Land.

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