Squatters 45-year wait for land ends in tears

Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020 00:00 |
Elizabeth Pamba and her grandson Eric Juma. Pamba is one of the 1,000 squatters fighting for land at the Tawai farm. Photo/PD/David Musundi

Elizabeth Pamba, a 96-year-old widow walks slowly, using a stick to support her frail body.

Her wrinkled face has a permanent scowl, telling her story before she utters a single word.

 Pamba, one of the 1,000 squatters at Tawai farm in Trans Nzoia has not known peace for the last 45 years when they purchased the 764 acres of land through Tawai Company Limited, a land-buying firm at a cost of over Sh7 million. 

The squatters are embroiled in a tussle with Eldoret Express Limited, which claims stake to a portion of the expansive farm.

The fight for the land has cost her son’s life and left some of her grandchildren with injuries.

Through an interpreter, Pamba said her son, Emmanuel Wafula was shot dead in 2007 by police deployed to block the squatters from accessing the land.

She is currently being taken care of by her grandson Eric Juma who also sustained injuries during the scuffle. 

Legal battle

“Since my son’s death, I haven’t been able to get justice. It is so painful to live in a land that I acquired legally, but I am unable to put up amenities because it is at the centre of a legal battle,” she said.

Pamba is not alone in the fight for the land, Charles Makhanu, another squatter said they have gone through years of struggles, including police harassment and denial of social amenities such as water and electricity connection.

Esther Wanyama, 65, and David Watere, 53, said they have been unable to send their children to school because they cannot eke out a living from the land. 

Watere said  they have endured countless losses after destruction of their houses, food stores and crops in the fields.

The history of Tawai Farm dates back to 1974 when it was registered under the name Gulamhuslen Walji Mulji and Abdul Raul Walji. 

When the duo failed to settle a loan from the Kenya Commercial Bank, they surrendered it to the squatters through the land buying firm who paid the loan and sub-divided it into five plots LR 5707/1, 5707/2, 5707/3,5707/4, and  5707/5 under one title.

The bone of contention is a sixth larger plot LR 5707/6, which the squatters claim to have changed hands illegally and are demanding it back. 

According to court documents, Former Governor of Central Bank Eric Kotut and a second person David Cullen under the auspices of Kaitet Tea Estates in 1977 sold the said LR 5707/6 to the shareholders of Eldoret Express James Mungai and Simon Mbugua at Sh40 million.

Two title deeds were finally issued for  the same plot with one for Tawai and the other for Eldoret Express.

This forced Tawai to move to the Eldoret Environment and Lands Court Case No 87 0f 2015 where Judge Anthony Ombwayo on August 18 2017, ordered the eviction of the Eldoret Express from the disputed plot and directed them to pay over Sh11 million as the costs of the suit.

The judge based his ruling on the evidence of the Director of Survey, the National Land Commission and the Registrar of Lands who concurred that there had been no land transaction carried between Kaitet Tea Estates and Eldoret Express.

Lacking merit

But Eldoret Express directors, move to the Court of Appeal in Case No 188 of 2018 and on August 7, this year Judges William Ouko, W Karanja and J Mohammed overturned the Environment and Lands Court ruling. 

A second bench of the Appeal Court of Judges J Kiage, Asike Makhandia and J Odek (now deceased) further dismissed their application seeking leave to proceed to the Supreme Court, describing it as frivolous and lacking merit. 

When contacted, directors of Eldoret Express  and  Tawai Company Limited were willing to discuss the matter.  

Eldoret Express Limited directors said they were in talks with their lawyer David Onyancha on the next course of action while the directors of Tawai Company Limited were conferring with their lawyers Nyairo and Company Advocates in Eldoret on the way forward after exhausting all legal avenues.

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