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How powerful individuals grabbed 3,000 acres of city’s sewerage land

Wednesday May 13 2020
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An excavator clearing off the fence during repossession of a grabbed Dandora Estate Sewerage treatment land parcel in Ruai, Nairobi on April 22, 2020. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By JOHN KAMAU
By VINCENT ACHUKA

When more than 40 demolition excavators descended on the plains of Nairobi’s Ruai at dawn yesterday, they not only set to recover 3,000 acres of what was originally set aside for sewerage purposes, but also brought to a screeching end a dream of what was supposed to be a fairy-tale city.

Had it been built to completion, Ruai Park Estate would have comprised 10,900 housing units worth a mouth-watering Sh15 billion funded by investors from the United Arab Emirates.

It would have been a one-of-a-kind project with malls, schools, solar farms and areas set aside for urban agriculture.

In fact, a Chinese contractor was already on site and houses were already growing on what used to be a barren piece of land that had in the years past been at the centre of protracted battles between different groups of squatters.
Then in 2014 an influential politician in government moved in to stake his claim on the land.

The politician managed to bulldoze everyone out of the way and used his influence to have a police station set up on the land to protect his interests.

The officers from the East Park Police Station, as it is known, have for the past six years been harassing anyone who threatened to challenge the ownership of the land while offering protection to the contractor who was building the city.

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“People here have died by just challenging the ownership of that land. It is not worth talking about it. Just see what you want to see and leave,” one of the IDPs living next to the property told us in August last year when a Nation investigation broke the story about the illegal occupation of the land.

On September 27, 2014, Mr Onesmus Mutinda, who was a surveyor in Ruai, was killed on the Ruiru Bypass.

His crime, according to the IDPs, was questioning the ownership of the 1,600-acre parcel, which by then was occupied by the IDPs.

Yesterday morning, the police officers guarding the property were overpowered by another contingent of about 300 officers mobilised from all the police divisions in Nairobi. The government had, after watching from the sidelines for three decades, come to take back its land.

As things stand, only 30 per cent of the over five million residents of the capital are connected to the sewerage system, whose treatment capability was last upgraded 40 years ago. This means that about 3.5 million Nairobians are either dumping their raw sewer into the Nairobi river basin or in septic tanks.

The Dandora Sewerage Treatment Plant, which stands next to the property repossessed yesterday, was built in 1980 and was initially meant to serve 80 per cent of city residents. But, since 1980, further expansion of the plant has been hampered by encroachment on its land.

As a result, the treated effluent does not meet required quality standards due to overloading. Standing on the only available land that can be used for expanding the plant are two properties with a total acreage of 3,000, and worth a whopping Sh20 billion.

The controversial property, LR NO 12979/4, is on paper owned by Renton Company Ltd, a firm founded in 1995. Renton’s records mysteriously disappeared from the Registrar of Companies, but we managed to get its registration number, 65570, from a land deal it carried out in the 1990s in Kakamega.

The Nation is aware that the mysterious owner of the land had used the value of the property to negotiate as equity for the city being built by developers from the UAE. The third partner in the project is a son of a former minister and husband of a former popular television news anchor.

TARMACKED ROAD

A tarmacked road was already being laid to link the project to Kangundo Road.
“This land was secured many years ago and it is a pity that it was stolen,” Water Principal Secretary Joseph Irungu told the Nation yesterday.

“Unless we recover the land, Nairobi will have no place to expand its treatment works.”

The Ruai land, previously known as Juja Sisal Estate, was originally part of the expansive 16,000-acre Embakasi Ranching Company land and had been sold to the land-buying company in the 1970s by the Settlement Fund Trustee, a body that was administering land after independence.

Records indicate that shortly after, the government made a compulsory acquisition of 5,000 acres and compensated the Embakasi Ranch shareholders. The land was to be reserved for the building of stabilisation ponds for Nairobi’s waste water.

But the Nairobi City Council only utilised 500 acres and left some 4,500 acres unoccupied — and unfenced.

The land was mistaken as unoccupied for many years — and became the playground for Nairobi councillors and politicians. Within the land are two tilapia fish ponds in Phase 1 and Phase 2 and which are used to determine the quality of water released.

But it was not until 1993 that the first raid on the land took place, when former Youth for Kanu chairman Cyrus Jirongo’s Offshore Trading Company was given part of the land, some 1,000 acres. Until recently, he was wooing some Arab investors into a joint Sh15 billion partnership to build a megacity worth billions of shillings on the land.

The only problem is that Mr Jirongo had no money and the land was already charged. The title had been with the Kenya Deposit Insurance Corporation (previously Deposit Protection Fund Board) of the Central Bank of Kenya after he used the land to secure for Sololo Outlets, his other company, a Sh1.1 billion loan from Postbank Credit Ltd (in liquidation).

“I have the original title to the land, so any other titles out there are of no use,” Mr Irungu told the Nation.

After Mr Jirongo was given the 1,000 acres, the balance of 3,500 acres was now up for grabs. It is this land that became controversial after the Nairobi City Council passed a resolution that they would settle squatters on 1,600 acres.

While some of the squatters were to be people who had lost land during the upgrading of the Mathare 4A slums and the building of the Mathare 4A primary school, politicians saw a gerrymandering opportunity to beef up the Ruai population.

For instance, Ruai councillor Dick Waweru — who later became Nairobi mayor — brought in various people from Githunguri while David Mwenje also brought in truckloads of supporters to get land. Soon, Embakasi Ranch chairman Mwangi wa Thuita, who was instrumental in the original hiving off of the land to built the sewage plant, also started his own allocations — in what became a free-for-all exercise.

Since Jirongo had not fenced ‘his’ land, the parcel was also occupied by squatters — and a few years ago they organised themselves under the Ruai Embakasi Youth United Development Organisation (Reyuda) and asked the High Court to nullify Mr Jirongo’s title deed and declare them the valid owner of the massive tract. This was after CBK’s Deposit Protection Fund Board sought to sell the property.

The balance of the land was then fenced by a senior politician but under a company known as Renton. Mr Irungu said it is “a pity that the people who had taken the land are very senior.”

“The land was never opened for alienation,” he added.

DAM POLLUTION FEARS

In a statement released yesterday, the ministry said that the waste-water treatment plant land was supposed to serve Nairobi for generations to come but only 660 acres remain.

With no treatment works for Nairobi’s sewage, the government, which has acquired a Sh42 billion loan from the Africa Development Bank to build a dam at Thwake, fears that raw sewage would flow into the dam.

“This investment will be a waste if the Athi River basin is not restored and sewage treated to the required standards before it is discharged,” said the statement signed by Mr Irungu and Lands and Physical Planning Principal Secretary Nicholas Muraguri.

“It is estimated that currently, out of a total of approximately 4,240 acres of this land, only 1,637 is utilised for sewerage,” the ministry said. “The rest of the land has been grabbed in totality.”

The ongoing demolition will be the single largest such recovery of grabbed land in the city.

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