By Dennis Ngetich
MPs have threatened to block renewal of leases for huge tracts of agricultural land owned by wealthy elite and multinationals.
They expressed anger that the Government had failed to include ordinary citizens in lease renewals and now want Parliament to intervene in the matter.
A petition by Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter wants Parliament to issue directions on the issue, including establishing the status of various parcels of land currently owned by multinationals in agriculturally rich areas where wealthy landowners have been reaping billions of shillings in profits over the years.
“In 1895, the colonial administration allegedly evicted the Nandi community from the ancestral land, currently occupied by multinational tea companies… the new Constitution brought along major changes to land ownership, where it reduced the leases from 999 years to 99 years. Consequently, all 999 years leases have lapsed,” said Keter in his petition.
“The Government should embrace public participation as stipulated in the constitution during consideration of renewal of the leases,” he said.
MPs said the problem on land leases affects all Kenyans.
“At the Coast, leases that expired were renewed without consulting the people. It is good for the Government to include communities,” said Andrew Mwadime (Mwatate).
“Counties from the Coast, Eastern, Rift Valley were taken by white settlers. People were sent to concentration camps. If this problem is not addressed, it will present a very big problem in future,” said Julius Melly (Tinderet).
Separately, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Kenya Land Alliance Odenda Lumumba claimed the issue of land lease renewals was controversial mainly due to the secretive nature it is being handled by the Government.
“In some of these cases, you find that land has already exchanged hands and only the ministry can provide those details. The details behind the lease terms and conditions are not known…there are lots of vested interests in the whole issue. However, from the questions being asked by the people, it shows something is amiss,” said Mr Lumumba.
He claimed in Nairobi, the only evidence that some leases may have been renewed are the numerous high-rise buildings coming up every day.
The interest by Parliament rekindles the land lease renewal debate that has taken a controversial dimension in the past few years, with claims of secrecy in identifying parcels of land whose leases have expired.
The problem also includes large cities such as Nairobi where land experts decry lack of openness in lease renewals.
Among the parcels of land targeted by the petition currently in Parliament are Kipkeibon, Kipkeikei, Kapsumbeywo, Chemoni, Savani, Septon, Kibwari, Nandi, Siret, Kipchamo, Kipkoimet, Kapchorwa, Kaboswa, Kibobet, Tinderet and Kalyet tea estates.
The tea estates occupy over 40,000 acres in Nandi Hills and Tinderet constituencies.
The tea estates have allegedly not benefited the communities, leading to resentment among the locals, who claim the lands were forcefully taken from their forefathers.
“There is palpable concern that the people have not been involved. I hope the petition will solve this problem once and for all,” said Keter.
In October, Murang’a residents petitioned the county government not to renew leases given to fruit juice company, Del Monte, demanding that the company cedes part of its 30,000 acres for public use.
There has also been agitation in the Coast region on alleged skewed renewal of leases.
The Land committee is expected to consider the petition and table a report before Parliament.
“The petitioners pray that the National Assembly, through the departmental committee of Land, to establish the status of land tenure or the said parcels of land and make any other order or direction that it deems fit in the circumstances of the matter,” the petition states.
“There are many landless Kenyans, yet we have few foreigners owing large tracts of land. If a lease has expired, then that land should be returned to the original owners. People cannot suffer during the colonial period and then suffer after independence,” said Kangogo Bowen (Elgeyo Marakwet).
“There should have been a transitional clause in the 2010 Constitution on how many times renewals can be done,” said Gideon Ochanda (Bondo).
Chair of the Senate Lands Committee Lenny Kivuti (Embu) said his committee is yet to consider the matter of expired leases.
“We are aware that many leases have expired in the past four years, but it is not something that we have considered as a committee,” said Mr Kivuti.
“In Nairobi, we have serious problems with leases that have expired. There are cartels at City Hall that have been taking away people’s property under the guise of expired leases. I have handled several of such cases, especially from members of the Indian community,” said Maina Kamanda (Starehe).