FIGHTING FOR 360 ACRES

Thika squatters seek Uhuru’s help to get title deeds

In Summary

• The squatters say their only hope of getting title deeds is if President Uhuru Kenyatta intervenes.

• The squatters claimed they were given the land in 1992 as a token of appreciation for their support in the hotly contested multiparty elections.

A member of the Maasai Village Women's Self-help Group points at her plot in Kiang'ombe area, Thika. A perimeter wall is being erected on the land
QUEST FOR LAND OWNERSHIP: A member of the Maasai Village Women's Self-help Group points at her plot in Kiang'ombe area, Thika. A perimeter wall is being erected on the land
Image: /John Kamau

Squatters in Thika Town constituency have urged President Uhuru Kenyatta to help expedite the issuance of title deeds for their land.

The more than 2,000 squatters under the Maasai Village Women Self-help Group said they have unsuccessfully been fighting for their 360 acres in Kiang’ombe village for more than two decades. The squatters said their only hope of getting title deeds is if Uhuru intervenes.

The squatters claimed they were given the land in 1992 as a token of appreciation for their support in the hotly contested multiparty elections.

But since then, the squatters have been left at the mercy of land cartels since they have no documents to show they own the land, which to date still belongs to the government.

Speaking at a meeting on the land in Kiang’ombe, Thika, on Saturday, group chairman Ibrahim Woche said land grabbers working in cahoots with some unscrupulous land officials forged documents and sold the land to unsuspecting investors.

“The land cartels are well-known, and they have already swindled investors of billions of money by selling land that belongs to the squatters,” the chairman said.

He said that squatters who had built on the land were forcibly evicted and their houses demolished by the land grabbers under “the guard of a hired criminal gang”.

“They [grabbers] constructed perimeter walls on the land and evicted those who had settled in. They took over all public utilities, including the land set aside for construction of a school. We, however, believe that once we get the title deeds all the land cartels will be kicked out for good,” Woche said.

He said they convened a meeting early this year and agreed to write to Lands ministry seeking intervention into the matter. The chairman on March 22 wrote to the ministry asking Lands CS Farida Karoney to fast-track the issuance of title deeds to the squatters.

“The squatters have been living on the land which they acquired with the blessings of the government,” read part of the letter.

Woche in the letter said they have been remitting land rates for the parcel for years to the former Thika municipality and then to Kiambu county government. The letter by the squatters to the ministry seems to have yielded fruit as the matter was immediately taken over by the National Land Commission (NLC).

NLC immediately wrote to Kiambu Lands executive inquiring about the land.  Lands executive J M Maina in a letter to NLC chairman, dated April 13, said the county had no objection to squatters being settled on the land.

“The current ownership status is varied and unclear and as such proper planning and formalisation will ensure optimal land use and security of tunes. We have no objection to the formalisation process,” the letter by the CEC read.

Kiambu NLC coordinator Berinda Akello in a letter said it will be prudent for the commission to facilitate the process to a logical conclusion.

NLC officials, led by Director of Land Administration Mercy Njamwea recently toured the land on a fact-finding mission.

During the visit, Njamwea promised the squatters that the commission had taken up the matter on the land and called for patience to allow surveying, planning and proper subdivision of the land.

She told those who have built on the land to continue living there but urged those who have not yet built not to do so.

Woche said the group is optimistic that they will be given titles.

“We have waited and relentlessly pushed for title deeds. Some members have even passed on before getting the important documents,” he said.

Bypass

The construction of Thika bypass which passes through the land has not made things any better for the squatters.

As soon as construction work on the road started towards the end of last year, speculators and land grabbers descended on the area to prey on public and private land with intentions of cashing in on unsuspecting investors.

Foreign investors who wanted to put up factories are said to have fallen victim to land grabbers who have been selling the land being occupied by the squatters.

Jeremiah Ngunga, a real estate agent in Thika town, said the value of land in the area has skyrocketed since construction of the road commenced last year.

He said a 40x80 plot now goes for Sh2 million up from Sh600,000 in January.

Monica Njeri a member of the group said issuance of titles is the only way to keep away land grabbers from selling the land to unsuspecting investors and Kenyans.