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Tension rises over disputed Mwea land

Sunday April 15 2018

Mwea settlement scheme

Residents of Karaba and Gategi in Embu County protest the issuance of title deeds to the Mwea settlement scheme on December 14, 2016. Tension has remained high in the region. PHOTO | CHARLES WANYORO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

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Tension between Kirinyaga and Embu counties boiled over this week when the latter announced that subdivision of a controversial piece of land in Mwea had been completed.

Police in Kiritiri, Embu County, are holding three men in connection with the hacking of retired District Commissioner Ireri Ndong’ong’i and three elders, who had gone to access their land in the recently demarcated area.

Mbeere South police boss Ahmed Mohammed said the attackers also set on fire Mr Ndong’ong’i’s vehicle at Mwanjo village, two kilometres from Makima market.

The group was among hundreds of people who received title deeds for the 44,000-acre land situated in Makima ward, Mbeere South Sub-County, and had gone to survey it.

While on a muddy road, their car got stuck and they called a group of youth to assist them.

It is then that they were attacked with machetes and clubs and the vehicle set ablaze.

Mr Ndong’ong’i suffered deep cuts to the head, chest and abdomen.

He was rescued by journalists who had gone to assess the situation, after beneficiaries were allowed to visit the vast land.

Mr Cosmas Ndeti, an eyewitness, narrated how one of the victims writhed in agony after his hand was chopped off.

“He was in great pain,” he said at the nearby Makima Health Centre.

Mr Ndong’ong’i and the others were taken to the facility for first aid before being transferred to Embu Level Five Hospital.

The OCPD said they arrested three men in the area and are looking for two others, who are suspected of inciting residents against land beneficiaries by spreading hate through social media.

“We have been here for the past three weeks erecting beacons. The exercise was concluded without any issue. These are people who had been hired to cause chaos,” Mr Ahmed said.

Tension has remained high in the area. 

This week, surveyors from the National Land Commission (NLC) finished the erection of beacons on the property, prompting Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru to issue a statement saying the subdivision was illegal.

In 2016, the High Court in Kerugoya issued temporarily orders stopping the issuance of title deeds to the land, which is claimed by both Kirinyaga and Embu counties.

The orders were issued after a case filled by the Kirinyaga county government, led by then governor Joseph Ndathi.

The NLC and then-Attorney-General Githu Muigai were named as second and third respondents in the suit, while Embu County was listed as an interested party.

Justice Boaz Olao also restrained the Embu County government from issuing land documents until the application filed by Kirinyaga County was heard and determined.

This week, Governor Waiguru opposed the allocation, citing the court order which stated that surveying and allocation of the land was not inclusive as it lacked public participation and primary stakeholders were not involved.

“Our attention has been drawn to media reports attributed to an official of the county government of Embu that the process of surveying and allocating land at the Mwea Settlement Scheme, jointly with the National Land Commission, is now complete,” she said.

The case remains in limbo after Ms Waiguru’s administration recalled the services of the lead lawyers in the case.

Kirinyaga County maintains that the disputed land belongs to it and was wrongly relocated to Embu during a boundary review in the 60s.

It accuses the Ministry of Lands and Embu County of not respecting the property rights of all community members.

But Embu County Lands executive Josphat Kithumbu said the subdivision had been finalised.