“I dare to do what others shy away from trying,” Embu Land executive Josephat Kithumbu said, reflecting on the demarcation of the Mwea settlement scheme where last week seven people were shot and injured in a bloody confrontation with police.
The injured were part of hundreds of squatters in the 44,000-acre land who missed title deeds after the county government and the Lands ministry issued 7,232 documents.
Earlier, a group of protesters had injured former District Commissioner Ireri Ndong’ong’i and four elders who had gone to the expansive scheme to see their land after demarcation was completed.
Following the attack, Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i and his Lands counterpart Farida Karoney on Thursday suspended the process, and ordered fresh scrutiny, saying it was marred by dishonest schemes and shrouded in mystery.
“The preliminary report we have about what is going on in that place can best be describe as sleazy and stinks to high heaven.
"The process was infiltrated by people who were not interested in solving the problem, but in getting land,” Dr Matiang’i said in a live broadcast in Mombasa on Friday.
But even as Dr Matiang’i swung into action, a case lodged by the Kirinyaga County government challenging the subdivision is coming up for mention on May 14.
The High Court in Embu is expected to set the date when all parties will make their final submissions.
Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru said the national government has already pronounced itself on the matter.
“We wait for further instructions from the ministries of Interior and Land. It’s a national government issue,” she said.
The land has been the subject of a 40-year tussle.
It has for long been a political tool with various leaders, including former MPs Jeremiah Nyaga and his son Joseph Nyaga, promising to resolve it.
Former MP Mutava Musyimi, who headed the Land Committee in the National Assembly, was also unable to end the wrangles after falling out with then-Embu leadership.
Over the years, thousands of people from as far as Makueni, Kitui, Machakos, Kirinyaga, Murang’a and other parts of Embu County have been moved to the Mwea scheme by influential people with the promise of getting land.
The plan to subdivide the lush green and fertile resource started in the 1970s, but was halted after Kirinyaga, Kamba, Embu and Mbeere elders disagreed and filed court cases.
Although it lies in Embu, Kirinyaga County says it has a stake in the scheme, claiming that residents of Ndia and Gichugu used to graze there before Kirinyaga was carved out of then-Embu district.
Ms Waiguru had called for a review of the process to issue title deeds.
However, Embu Senator Njeru Ndwiga dismissed her, saying she was unaware of the land’s details.
He said Mwea had been allocated to Embu County while Ngariama settlement scheme was reverted to Kirinyaga when it was hived off from Embu County.
“Let her dig into history and she will understand which scheme between Mwea settlement scheme and Ngariama belongs to.
"Mwea scheme is, politically and historically, within Embu while Ngariama is theirs.
"When they subdivided the Ngariama ranch we didn’t lay claim to it yet we had a right to,” Mr Ndwiga said.
Immediately the allocation was done, there was hue and cry from the residents, who protested that a majority had been left out.
Mr Musyimi claimed that unscrupulous individuals have benefited.
Community leaders in Mbeere South Sub-County had in July 2016 presented a memorandum to the Interior ministry pressing for the nullification of the recent adjudication.
They said politically connected people and their cronies, who already own big tracts of land, benefited most at the expense of the squatters.
Mr Njeru Wakiuma, for instance, cited the case of a man who allegedly allocated his wife 45.2 hectares, mother (44.2), father (2.2), son (41.7) and brother (3.3).
Mr Wakiuma claimed the man’s five in-laws also got some chunks of land and in total his extended family got 147.5 hectares.
“Some serving and retired assistant chiefs, government officials and prominent people in the society benefited in the same way. Yet the leaders had agreed to give a maximum of five acres to each beneficiary,” said Mr Wakiuma.
Embu Catholic Bishop Paul Kariuki, who has been vocal in addressing the issue, also petitioned the national government to scrutinise the allocation of the title deeds to ensure those living there are not displaced.
Local Maendeleo ya Wanawake leader Rebecca Nduku said many single mothers and widows were also left out in the allocation.