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Tension is building over the ownership of a 419-acre farm in Kamiti, Kiambu County with residents appealing for government intervention to forestall a violent confrontation.
The standoff over ownership of the land pits 1,500 residents who claim they were allocated plots by then President Daniel arap Moi in 1994 and four groups representing 2,000 members who are also laying a claim to the prime Sh12 billion property in Kamiti Anmer area of Kiambu sub-county.
The four groups claim to represent squatters while the initial allottees were internally displaced persons (IDPs) who had fled ethnic clashes in the Rift Valley in 1992.
The initial beneficiaries of the government resettlement scheme who have already settled there say they are now living in fear of invasion by a group of youths.
Lucy Kamau, 85, told reporters that the area was previously a forest and there were no squatters living there when they were allocated the land.
This was echoed by several other beneficiaries among them 70-year-old Josephine Wamaitha who asked the government to speed up the issuance of titles and ward off marauding gangs claiming ownership of the land.
“We are at the mercy of hired gangs who keep on confronting us claiming the land belongs to them. We ask President Kenyatta to intervene and ensure we get our title deeds,” said Wamaitha.
Philip Kamau, who was secretary of the plot allocation committee under the defunct Kiambu County Council said the land officially belongs to the government as it is yet to be degazetted by the Kenya Forest Service (KFS).
“The allocation was above board but KFS is yet to formalise the process by degazetting the excised land for issuance of titles,” Kamau said and added that the portions were being resurveyed.
Kiambu Deputy County Commissioner (DCC) Kiarie Njuguna said the alternative dispute resolution process initiated by Parliament to resettle the squatters was halted after members of the four groups failed to reach an agreement.
The DCC was responding to claims by officials of the four welfare societies representing squatters that some senior government officers in the county had hijacked the resettlement process and were involved in shady transactions over the land.
The members of the squatters’ groups - Kamiti Forest Squatters Association, Muungano wa Kamiti Welfare Society, Kamiti Anmer Development Welfare Group and the Kamiti Anmer Development Association – had claimed they were shortchanged in the resettlement scheme.
Their representatives Peter Mwaura and Peter Wakaba accused the local administration of altering a list of beneficiaries presented to the parliamentary lands committee, which they had petitioned in a bid to solve the 30-year dispute, a claim that the DCC refuted.
Wakaba accused the administration of using the police to harass and intimidate officials of the welfare groups who were pushing for settlement of their members following their earlier petition to parliament and the National Land Commission.
However, the DCC dismissed the claims and instead said some officials of the groups were being investigated for illegally collecting money from members of the public in the pretext of allocating them plots.
“They have resorted to making scandalous allegations against government officers in a bid to divert attention from their illegal activities,” Njuguna told journalists when reached for comment.
He added that the government through the NLC and other relevant agencies had initiated a regularisation process where those who may have been allocated more land than deserved would have it redistributed.
Earlier, Kiambu County Commissioner Wilson Wanyanga said his office was awaiting direction from the relevant ministries and Parliament before resuming the alternative dispute resolution process.