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Kenya - land rights

Squatters in Kenya's Murang'a county speak of 'colonisation' on ancestral lands

The hills of Murang'a County, Kenya.
The hills of Murang'a County, Kenya. © COSV/CC
Text by: Lenny Ruvaga
4 min

Kenya's Murang’a county is home to Kakuzi, the food producer and exporter that occupies some 39,300 acres. Land ownership in this fertile area is out of reach for many who consider it their ancestral home. But legal battles over land distribution could shape the economic outlook of the area.

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Kakuzi, a colonial throwback whose majority shareholder is the British company Camellia Plc, is facing a number of lawsuits, the latest which centres on land rights. Approximately 10,000 squatters are laying claim to the land the farm sits on.

Formed in the early 1900’s, Kakuzi mainly forged its business around agriculture and agricultural produce.

Residents living on the fringes of Kakuzi accuse the company of being responsible for the squalor in which they find themselves.

“I’m a citizen of Kenya and we were given independence, but I’m still a colonised person in my own country,” John Murithi, a community representative, told RFI's Africa Calling podcast.

Ancestral Land

Two years ago, about 4,600 Kakuzi residents formed the Kakuzi Divisional Development Association. They petitioned the National Land Commission, NLC, to investigate and order a revocation of the land.

Six groups representing thousands of squatters spread around Kakuzi in Murang’a county are laying claim to the land, including Gaichanjiru Self Help group, Kitoto Community IDPs, Kituamba Kaloleni IDPs, Kinyangi squatters, Gathungururu Self Help group and Kitoto community IDPs.

The matter is still before the Environmental and Land court.

Some parties despair of ever receiving justice in their lifetime.

Squatter Mariam Wanja is one of the thousands of people who directly attribute their state of affairs to the alleged land grab by Kakuzi. Like Murithi, she has lost all hope in a positive settlement.

“I am a squatter since I don’t have land and it has all been taken by Kakuzi. I would like to see justice done by being given part of that land,” says Wanja.

Land Rights

Civil society groups led by the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC), an independent rights group, has been working on the case for the past fifteen years. The organisation seeks to rectify the alleged injustice that has affected preceding generations.

“Kakuzi came in as part of the colonial corporation and it established its operation from 1927 in the country,” says said Davis Malombe, KHRC acting director.

“So now you can imagine communities which have been landless and dispossessed for more than seventy years and the way land is also key to the enjoyment of human rights,” he adds.

The squatters, who make up the majority of residents in the area, are marginalised as a result, due to lack of access to government facilities, according to Malombe.

“It also means there cannot be development by government in the region because all the land is government land, and all the facilities are on Kakuzi land,” he says.

Historical land injustice

There have been numerous land commissions and reports aimed at addressing land rights in Kenya. Two other multinationals, Del Monte Kenya Limited and Mabroukie Tea and Coffee Estates are both facing legal challenges by locals who contest the land on which they operate.

Land rights activists maintain that the attempt at land redistribution lacks the political goodwill needed to enforce valid claims. The Kenya Land Alliance (KLA), a not-for-profit land rights organisation, was formed partly to streamline land governance and strengthen community land rights.

“It is not equitably distributed when you look at it because the powerful, the politically correct and the wealthy prefer to deny the poor, the vulnerable, the landless, the squatters, simply because land is a finite resource it does not expand or stretch,” says Faith Alubbe, the head of KLA.

Africa Calling’s efforts to get Kakuzi to comment went unanswered by the time this report was published.

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