Criticos denies grabbing World War I battleground, vows to stay put

Wednesday March 18 2020
By LUCY MKANYIKA

Former Taveta MP Basil Criticos has dismissed reports that he grabbed Salaita Hill, which he fenced off last year.

Mr Criticos Tuesday said he owns the land and accused Taita-Taveta Governor Granton Samboja and other local politicians of inciting residents against him.

Salaita Hill was declared a monument by the National Museums of Kenya in 2015.

It was a battleground between British and German soldiers during the First World War.

ELECTRIC FENCE

At a rally on Saturday, Mr Samboja threatened to lead residents in tearing down the electric fence if the Ministry of Lands fails to address the dispute.

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However, Mr Criticos who owns huge tracts of land in Taita-Taveta County, told off the governor.

“I acquired the land in the 1970s. Those accusing me of grabbing should inform the relevant government authorities and departments instead of inciting people,” he said.

He added that he would hold the governor responsible if anything happens to him or his property.

Mr Criticos defended his decision to fence the area, saying, some people were trespassing on the monument and stealing artefacts.

He said there is need to protect the hill from encroachment “since some people have started putting up permanent houses on my land.”

“I evicted the squatters in order to protect the hill. Is that wrong?” Mr Criticos asked. 

Last year, a high-powered delegation to the site was denied entry during celebrations to mark 100 years since end of the war.

British High Commissioner Nick Hailey and German ambassador to Kenya Annette Gunter were in the delegation that wanted to go up the hill.

DELEGATIONS

Mr Criticos said he would not stop such delegations from accessing the site as long as he is part of the planning committees.

“I was not involved in the planning, which took several months. There was a similar event on my property in 2014, but nobody bothered to inform me,” he said, adding that he has a right to the piece of land.

“I have a responsibility to protect and preserve this national monument,” Mr Criticos said.

He asked the government to protect “his” land, saying he is helping preserve Kenya’s heritage for future generations.

Top government administrators in the county say the disputed piece of land belongs to the former Taveta MP.

Taveta Deputy County Commissioner Stanley Kamande recently said Mr Criticos has a title deed showing he is the legal owner of the land in question.