DP Ruto’s insatiable appetite for land returns to haunt him
Emeka-Mayaka Gekara and Eric Wainana
Deputy President William Ruto’s appetite for land, some parcels of which have been repossessed while others are subject of court cases, could become his Achilles heel in 2022 presidential election.
This even as his supporters yesterday described the Wednesday seizure of 1,600 acres of land associated with him in Nairobi’s Ruai area as politically-motivated.
Political observers who spoke to People Daily indicated that the takeover of the Ruai land could herald a determination by the State to seize more of his controversial properties, including Weston Hotel which sits on government land.
But Soy MP Caleb Kositany yesterday described the repossession as illegal.
“The owners of the land in Ruai had titles which are government documents,” said the MP, a strong Ruto ally.
Ruto has lately been fighting to regain control of the governing Jubilee Party which he co-founded with President Uhuru Kenyatta.
He was jolted into action after officials close to Uhuru made leadership changes at the secretariat without involving him.
Political scientist Obuya Bagaka says the repossession of the Ruai land could just be one of the many plots to silence Ruto.
“The Ruai land seizure was Episode One. If he fights back, there will be Episode Two where the matter will be taken to court where he will be forced to defend himself which I doubt he will be keen on. I will not be shocked if the next stop will be Weston Hotel,” he said.
On Wednesday, the government said it had repossessed the 1,600-acre which is meant for the expansion of the city’s sewerage plant.
“The government has today embarked on an operation to repossess over 3,000 acres of the Dandora Estate Waste Sewerage Treatment plant located in Ruai which have been grabbed by private entities,” the government said in a statement.
A close associate of the DP, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the DP had tasked him to protest the move in court.
“Who doesn’t know that Ruto is a clever businessman? Mheshimiwa’s former allies have turned against him dragging along his businesses to paint him as corrupt in order to prevent him from inheriting State House in 2022,” said the businessman.
But Ruto is not new to controversy on matters land.Already, the State has re-opened investigations into circumstances under which a company associated with him acquired a 1,000-acre farm owned by late former Vice-President Joseph Murumbi in Narok county.
This follows another decision by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) to re-open investigations into the sale of Ngong Forest land worth Sh272 million involving Ruto in 2001.
The case saw Ruto and other high-ranking officials in the Daniel arap Moi regime charged in court and later set free when the case collapsed.
Ruto and his co-accused, Joshua Kulei and Sammy Mwaita, were acquitted in 2011 with the court blaming the prosecution for failing to prove that Ruto had indeed been paid by Kenya Pipeline Company for the land.
“The prosecution failed to produce in court the then Finance manager Hellen Njue to give her evidence on how she paid out the money,” said the court.
Ruto had in July 2009 appointed Njue, a key witness in the case, to the board of trustees of the Coffee Development Fund when he was the Agriculture minister.
Controversy over the Weston Hotel on Nairobi’s Lang’ata Road has been going on for some time.
In January last year, the National Land Commission established that the hotel is built on land owned by the Kenya Aviation Authority and recommended that Ruto be compelled to pay “to the people of Kenya” for the 0.773ha plot opposite Wilson Airport at the current market rate. The matter is subject of a court case.
In his defence, Ruto argues that he bought the property from an individual who had acquired it illegally, and he was, therefore, not to blame.
In the Narok case, North Mugor Holdings acquired about 1,000 acres from the slightly more than 2,000 acres of the land from the Agricultural Finance Corporation in 2015.
The land was seized from the Murumbi family after it failed to service a Sh8.6 million loan borrowed on September 16, 1985.
Although Ruto is not enlisted as a director of North Mugor, a civil society group last year linked him to the purchase.
Trusted Society of Human Rights last year wrote to the DCI George Kinoti demanding a probe into how the land changed hands.
The group accused AFC of colluding with the company to acquire the land which was also claimed by rival factions at a throwaway price.
The lobby accuses AFC of offering to sell the subject property to North Mugor Holdings at Sh63,440,000 which translates to Sh65,000 per acre.
Moreover, DP was in August 2013 ordered to surrender land which he was accused of grabbing from Adrian Muteshi, who had sued him for grabbing during the 2007/08 post-election violence.
Justice Rose Ougo ordered Ruto to vacate the land and further pay Muteshi Sh5 million.
According to Bagaka, the image of a Deputy President constantly fighting corruption allegations could provide ammunition for his opponents in the 2022 presidential contest.
“These allegations can be used by the Kieleweke team to injure the DP more by saying ‘You see, the person is associated with mega scandals, can we really entrust him with the party?” he posed.
But Bahati MP Kimani Ngunjiri has defended Ruto accusing the State of harassing him by resurrecting old matters with the intention of frustrating his presidential ambitions.
“The State machinery has been turned against him by officials who are not elected as the President keeps quiet. The plan will not succeed,” he said.
Dagoretti North MP Simba Arati, however, reckons that the DP’s obsession with property and attendant cases might return to haunt him.