Battle lines drawn in Yala Swamp land case

NLC in October last year issued a notice that part of the land would be given to a private investor

In Summary

•The Yala Swamp battle has been raging for years after US investor Calvin Burgess of Dominion Farms, who had a 25-year lease, exited citing political interference.

• Local leaders and activists escalated their fight to win "their land" back in court after it was alleged Siaya Governor Rasanga was influencing allocation of swathes of the land.


Abandoned assets at the Yala Swamp land in Siaya county.
YALA SWAMP: Abandoned assets at the Yala Swamp land in Siaya county.

The battle lines have been drawn in the fight for Yala Swamp after a Siaya court set January 31 for the mention of the case.

Activists Charles Oliech and Kennedy Ochieng want the court to stop the National Land Commission from allocating parcels to private investors.

On October 14 last year, the commission issued a notice that part of the land would be given to an investor to manage.

NLC chairman Gershom Otachi said the notice was issued after the Siaya county government informed the agency that it intended to allocate the land.

That notice prompted the court action and it has since been withdrawn.

"The aim of our notice is to receive people's views. We will look at the objections and consider them before any decision is made," Otachi later said after the NLC notice was rescinded.

The activists want the land ownership reverted to the public.

On Thursday, Siaya High Court judge Anne Koros set January 31 for mention of the case.

The battle for Yala Swamp land has been raging for years after American investor Calvin Burgess of Dominion Farms, who had acquired a 25-year-lease, exited, citing political interference.

The activists say the county government was influencing the allocation of enormous parcels to private investors. 

Oliech and Ochieng argued that allocation of the land should only be done after the county has come up with a guide on how to register and manage the wetland. 

Also, they want that demarcations done by the county government as  recommended by the Siaya County Assembly in 2019.

"The county government of Siaya, NLC and the investors had gone to court wanting our petition to be thrown out, arguing that Yala Swamp is public land and therefore belongs to all Kenyans. So allowing the case to proceed is already a big win for us," Alego Central MCA Leonard Oriaro said.

He is among leader advocating for the return of the land to residents.

Oriaro reiterated that the 3,700ha (9,142 acres) in contention originally belonged to the people of Alego, Usonga and Yimbo.

"The gazette notice of 1970 was about arranging Yala Swamp for organised settlement because floods had interfered with community's cultivation and settlements. So, locals had been told to leave, the land would be reclaimed and then they would come back on dry land," he said.

Residents cannot return to the land or conduct any activity on it because it is yet to be registered as community land.

Oriaro and the activists are ready for a legal duel with their adversaries once he full hearing begins.

"I want to say without bragging that I will teach the county government, the legal department and the county attorney the letter and spirit of the law and we will win. We will teach them law because we are out to further the philosophy of law in this matter," the MCA said.

(Edited by V. Graham)

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