After the Nandi County debacle on land repossession, it is now Kiambu County’s turn — and the fire is spreading.
In Nandi and neighbouring counties, the debate is about the renewal of land leases for thousands of acres of land that house vast tea zones.
In Kiambu, however, Del Monte has already given up a section of the land it was sitting on to the county government in return for a deal to renew leases for a portion of the land it occupies.
No one knows when this roller coaster will end as momentum on the clamour for land leases not to be renewed also gathers pace in Nairobi and the Coast.
One thing is clear though: The ramifications of this clamour will be felt by many, far and wide.
The sad part is that, aside from the political ‘victory’ by the local politicians involved, most residents will immediately begin feeling the effects of the decision on the economic and social front.
What is going on in Kiambu County bears all the hallmarks of what can go wrong when the land repossession debate is not handled with care.
After months of threats and arm-twisting, Del Monte was forced to surrender 635 acres of land to the Kiambu County government. The initial demand was for 6,500 acres out of a total of 10,000 acres. No one knows whether the matter is now fully settled or whether a similar demand will be made when new politicians are voted in.
Del Monte Kenya is a food-processing company that cultivates, produces and cans pineapple products. It produces canned solid pineapple, juice concentrates, mill juice sugar and cattle feed.
As a result of Del Monte’s industry, Kenya ranks among the top five pineapple exporters. The company employs about 7,000 workers and has an estimated annual revenue of Sh4.5 billion.
Disrupting the operations of such a firm will certainly have economic ramifications for employees and the surrounding communities.
What is sad is, after all the clamour for the land to be ceded, the story has now moved on to indecision on what to do with the land.
The 635-acre piece of former Del Monte land has now resulted in a dispute between Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu and Thika Town MP Patrick Wainaina and other political leaders of the larger Kiambu.
While Mr Wainaina and the other leaders want the land to be used to house hospitals, schools, markets and light industries, the governor said it will be used to settle slum dwellers who do not have land in the Kiandutu slums, near Thika town.
Problem number one: It is not even clear what size of land was ceded.
Media reports have cited two figures — 1,000 acres and 635 acres. So, even from the onset, which is which?
Problem number two: It is quite clear now that, once the land was ceded, instead of agreeing on what to do with the newly acquired factor of production, it has become a hot political issue.
It is interesting to see that none in the Kiambu leadership had thought it wise to first address what would follow immediately after the land was relinquished by Del Monte.
As we all know, once it becomes a political issue, it will take some time to resolve and, in most cases, the solution will rarely be in the interest of local residents.
The next script is as good as done.
The political leadership will most likely call for public participation to decide on what to do with the land. This will then be followed by a disagreement on personal ownership versus public utilities as different interest groups weigh in.
In the end, the poor residents of the area will lose out.
It is time the national government took a strong stand against this reckless trend of converting economically productive land to small, idle, speculative pieces that are not economically viable and a potential conflict hotbed.
The national government needs to be decisive and clear in its role of protecting land as an asset and a key factor of production; otherwise, we risk conflict among communities.
Again, it is time the national government tamed the county governments, lest they run amok with ill-conceived short-term decisions on such a sensitive issue as land tenure that, in the long run, neither benefit the local communities nor the national economy and are merely cash-minting schemes for a select few.
We all know in Kenya land is quite an emotive issue and a cause of conflicts. Let us tread with care.
Ms Nyaboke is a public relations specialist. [email protected]