Mwea scheme belongs to Embu and Kirinyaga, says ex-minister

Nyagah says distribution of land will never succeed until the two counties agree

In Summary

• Distribution of land has for a long time failed, sometimes turning bloody as it did a year ago when one person was shot dead.

• More than 3,000 acres were grabbed by rich people, senior government officers and politicians.

Former minister Joe Nyaga at his Gachoka home
Former minister Joe Nyaga at his Gachoka home

The perennially disputed Mwea settlement scheme belongs to Embu and Kirinyaga counties, former Cabinet minister Joe Nyagah has said.

Nyagah said the county governments of Embu and Kirinyaga should be involved for the distribution of land to be successful. 

The allocation of the 54,000-acre scheme has been contentious for a long time,  sometimes turning bloody as it happened last year when one person was shot dead by the police and eight others injured. The government subsequently suspended the issuance of title deeds.

Nyagah said the land historically belonged to the Ndia community of Kirinyaga and the Mbeere and was known as the Kikuyu Trust land during the colonial period. 

The former politician told the Star at his Gachoka home that the Ndia and Mbeere communities later accommodated the Kambas. That is how the Kambas became landowners in central Kenya.

The situation changed in 1963 during the Lancaster House constitutional conference in London when his father, the late Jeremiah Nyagah, lobbied fiercely and succeeded in pulling the Mbeere and Embu out of Central to Eastern province.

He said owing to a fierce conflict between his father and President Jomo Kenyatta, the President put the Kikuyu Trust land under irrigation. It became Mwea irrigation scheme but in Central province. Mwea settlement scheme remained in Eastern province.

Nyagah senior, who was a Cabinet minister, tried to have the Mwea settlement scheme distributed to the Mbeere and Kamba people but Mihiriga Kenda of the Kirinyaga community went to court and stopped the exercise.

“In 1978 in a meeting chaired by Vice-President Daniel arap Moi in Kerugoya town, Kirinyaga and Embu districts entered into a deal that Kirinyaga people should get 1,000 farms of 10 acres each of the settlement scheme and about 5,000 farms of 10 acres each should remain with the Embu people,” Nyagah said.

But a district officer who was appointed to oversee the exercise distributed most of the 1,000 pieces meant for Kirinyaga people to persons from Murang'a, Nyeri and Kiambu districts.

When Moi became president he appointed Nyagah as Lands minister and asked him to facilitate the distribution of the scheme land.

He said he could not complete the exercise after representatives of the Kamba people went to court, which stopped the allocation.

After devolution, the Embu county government, in conjunction with the National Land Commission, tried to divide the land into 1,732 parcels but the exercise turned fatal after one person was shot dead and eight others were seriously injured.

“Unless the 1978 deal between the Kirinyaga and Embu districts is implemented by Embu and Kirinyaga county governments, distribution of Mwea settlement scheme will never be successful,” Nyagah said.

According to the former minister, more than 3,000 acres were grabbed by rich people and their families, senior government officers and politicians. Those people should be forced to relinquish the acreage so that the landless squatters who missed land can be settled.

Nyagah said he tried to consult former Kirinyaga Governor Ndathi and Embu Governor Martin Wambora to negotiate over the land but they declined.

He urges Wambora and his counterpart Ann Waiguru to resolve the crisis and leave a good legacy.