Across the valley from the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) headquarters is a multibillion-shilling 94 acres of scrub land whose controversy has refused to go away.
If you check well, inside Karura Forest and bordering this land, just before you cross the river towards Kiambu, is a 0.4-acre parcel with coffee, but hidden by the canopy.
So how did a coffee farm end up inside Karura Forest? And since the forest department has never planted coffee, who, then, owns this coffee plot?
This is a story of how land controversies in this country mutate to the extent that even the Judiciary and the Ministry of Lands lose sight of the intrigues.
Soon you will be hearing more about this land, but let me put it in perspective. Let me defend Jomo Kenyatta, for once, on land.
This was part of the land owned by Joreth Limited, a company once controlled by one of the first Israeli settlers in Nairobi, Jacob Hirschfeld, and which, in recent years, has turned out to be the most controversial in Kenya.
After Hirschfield – whose father-in-law was millionaire Abraham Block – expressed his wish to sell his 900 acres in 1976, several independence-era tycoons decided to line up for it: Gema chairman Njenga Karume, Githunguri MP Arthur Magugu, Central Bank Governor Duncan Ndegwa, Juja MP Peter Muigai Kenyatta and businessman Harun Muturi, among others, and as a group.
But there was one hiccup: Hirschfield wanted to be paid in foreign currency, which only Jomo Kenyatta and Mr Ndegwa could approve.
Minutes from Joreth Limited indicate that in 1976, the directors – after they successfully bought the land from the Israeli – agreed to sell 100 acres to Kenyatta.
They settled on the piece that was adjacent, but with no frontage to Kiambu Road due to a 14-acre strip of land that was part of Karura Forest.
In essence, there was a strip of government land blocking Joreth’s land from the new Kiambu Road. (The old Kiambu Road is inside Karura Forest).
Had Kenyatta agreed to grab that piece of Karura land as frontage to his land, this saga would have ended there. But he didn’t.
Archival records indicate when this Joreth land was surveyed in 1975 by a Mr James Kamwere, and Kenyatta was shown the 100-acre land he was to buy, he realised that the deed plan and title had included the Karura Forest land.
The Commissioner of Lands had apparently registered the bigger genuine portion of Joreth land as LR 216/8 (about 95 acres) and an illegal forest land portion of five acres as LR No. 12261.
But Kenyatta was advised by Attorney-General Charles Njonjo that in law, a forest land could not be amalgamated into an agricultural land without statutory formalities.
It is now ascertained that the land officials had made a mistake by consolidating LR 12261 (the forest land) and LR 216/8 to create LR 12236, which was supposed to be Jomo’s new acquisition of 100 acres.
Thus, when Kenyatta rejected the five acres, he was handed a title, LR 216/8, which was 95 acres – though on paper, he had bought 100 acres.
Where did his five acres disappear to? These were retained by Joreth Limited to await the legal process where Joreth would legally take the 14-acre strip of Karura Forest land adjacent to their land and hand over an equivalent parcel to the government.
As a result, Title LR No 12236 (which had included the forest land) was returned to the Commissioner of Lands files – after all it was of no use. It was assumed that this was now a dead title.
But was title LR 12236 issued on March 26, 1976, and its deed plan destroyed? No. That is not how things were done at the Commissioner of Lands’ office. Indeed, land sharks use such confusion to make money.
By the time Kenyatta died in 1978, the alteration of the Karura Forest boundary to allow the exchange between the government and Joreth had not been concluded.
Thus, the 95 acres in LR 216/8 were inherited by both Mama Ngina Kenyatta and Peter Muigai as the administrators of Jomo’s estate.
After the death of Mr Muigai in 1979, Mama Ngina took over the administration of this land until April 1988, when she decided to dispose of the land for Sh10 million.
This sale was witnessed by Nairobi lawyer Paul Muite and the land still had no frontage to Kiambu Road, as the exchange with Karura was never completed.
Mama Ngina sold this land at a time when Kenya was going through a political crisis after President Moi introduced the queue-voting and the conclusion of the immensely rigged March 1988 general election. She had wanted to consolidate the Kenyatta empire.
The fear of Kanu, perhaps, explains why the shareholders of Sceneries Limited, which bought the land, registered it under two trustees: George Waruhiu and Grace Githu. The Sceneries directors were Ngengi Muigai, Solomon Karanja, J.G. Kibe and S.K. Macharia.
A declaration of express trust was signed by Mr Waruhiu and Ms Githu and witnessed by M.K. Ibrahim on April 8, 1988.
Meanwhile, Mama Ngina appears to have forgotten that Mzee Kenyatta had actually bought 100 acres and that there was a balance of five acres due to her from Joreth Limited.
In 1992, four years after Mama Ngina sold the land, a legal process to exchange the Karura Forest strip of land was started by the minister for Environment and Natural Resources, John Sambu, through legal notice No 301 and 302.
MISCHIEF SETS IN
In this exchange, Joreth Limited exchanged LR 12422/1 measuring 13.9 acres and received LR 12421 measuring 14.5 acres.
After the completion of this process, Joreth vacated LR 12422/1, which is where the National Intelligence Service headquarters is located in Muthaiga North.
From Joreth’s 14.5 acres, some 4.7 acres should have been handed over to Mama Ngina. But that was never done and that is how a scandal was cooked.
When Joreth received this forest land, they subdivided it into four portions: LR 12421/1, LR 12421/2 and LR 12421/3. Part of this is today’s Rib Shack. The fourth parcel and which was adjacent to the ex-Kenyatta land was not given a new number.
And that is where the mischief would set in. By this time, there had been a falling-out between two directors of Scenaries Limited (Mr Macharia and Mr Kibe) and Mr Muigai, who had placed a caveat on the 95 acres in LR 216/8.
By this time, the fourth director, Mr Karanja, had left the company and sold his stake. During the poll campaigns of 1997, Moi was facing a major challenge from Mwai Kibaki.
A new group of power brokers and Kikuyu tycoons had formed the Central Province Development Support Group, which included Kenya Power’s Samuel Gichuru, Housing Finance Managing Director Walter Mukuria, businessmen S.K. Macharia, P.G. Mureithi, Manga Mugwe, J.G. Kibe and William Mbote.
It was during this period that Macharia and Kibe decided to sell the Scenaries Limited land to Kenya-Re for Sh500 million. The problem was that there was a caveat on LR 216/8.
Somebody at the Lands office, and conniving with some of the directors of Scenaries Limited, fished out the deed plans that had been returned by Jomo Kenyatta after he rejected that piece of Karura land. These had not been destroyed yet and were still in the file.
Police say that a new title, LR 12236, was made in “River Road” after both Mr Macharia and Mr Kibe had filed returns to the registrar of companies indicating that they were the only directors of Scenaries Limited.
Thus, the title that Kenyatta had rejected was now in use. In order to carry out the fraud, a letter was written on May 20, 1997, which indicated that LR No 12236 was part of LR216/8.
The letter said that the consolidation deed plan No 98746 could not be found.
While LR 12236 was to cover the fourth piece of land that Joreth had not given any number and which, initially, was supposed to belong to Jomo Kenyatta, it was now treated as the Mother Title and prepared to indicate that it now covered 100 acres.
Land mischief is usually done in a hurry and this is how Kenya Re found itself with a fake title. In less than a week, a Kiambu magistrates court “overturned” a High Court order CC 4232 of 1991 and removed the Caveat on LR 216/8.
With the Caveat removed, the consolidated land, which had the number LR 12236, was taken through the land board and registration at the Lands and sold to Kenya Re for Sh550 million in a single day.
Happily, both Mr Macharia and Mr Kibe walked away with Sh550 million which, according to court records, was shared out.
From that money, Kibe received Sh112.5 million while Macharia’s Royal Credit card was paid a similar amount.
Some Sh55 million was paid to lawyers while Sh270 million was delivered as certificates of deposits.
Records at Kenya Re indicate that the board ratified this purchase of LR 12236 comprising 97 acres, less the portion known as Rib Shack.
But later investigations indicated that the title LR 12236 was not genuine.
A letter sent from the Government Printer on May 25, 2007 and signed by G.K. Runo said the title held by Kenya Re “does not meet the required standards and specifications employed by the Government Printer”.
Later, DCI officers dismissed it as a River Road title – meaning it was fake.
Some of the court affidavits filed by Mr Macharia for Scenaries Limited had indicated that Mama Ngina had inherited LR 12236 , which she sold to the company. That, as per the records, is not true – and I am not her advocate.
When this story finally unfolds, it will show how the refusal by Kenyatta to get a small piece of Karura Forest metamorphosed into one of the biggest land scandals in Nairobi.
At the moment, Kenya Re has been asking the DCI to return the fake title LR 12236, which the former DCI refused to hand over, arguing it was the strongest evidence against Scenaries directors.
As Mr Ngengi and Mr Macharia continue fighting – an innocent Mama Ngina is caught up in a war that she knows nothing about.
Actually, she lost part of Jomo’s land and that was what was used to get money from Kenya Re, long after she had sold her land.
And finally that coffee plot inside Karura does not belong to the forest. It was supposed to be part of Joreth land, and was never part of the exchange between the government and Joreth. Legally, it is still part of LR 216/8 – the 95 acres of Kenyatta land.
Meanwhile, Kenya Re has made a counterclaim against Scenaries Limited, asking for a fresh transfer of the title for the parcel it bought, or else the firm should pay Kenya Re Sh6.5 billion and damages for breach of contract.
In essence, we have not heard the last about this land.
[email protected]; @johnkamau1