Land is certainly one investment that is sure to only appreciate in value with time, so it comes as no surprise that most people will try their best to have a piece of land to their name. However, there is an alarming rise of cases in which suspicious land deals are being cut by county government leadership behind the scenes.
Currently, at least seven governors are entangled in a heated war with multinational companies over the fate of land whose leases are expiring. A review of a number of counties reveals how governors have targeted multinationals owning huge pieces of agricultural land in various parts of the country.
With a strategy to corner these multinationals’ management for kickbacks to renew leases or approve development plans, the governors have turned land deals into a negotiating tool for political survival.
Away from the glare of the public, the governors and their advisers retreat to the boardrooms with multinationals to strike deals that are mainly beneficial to their personal interests. They then announce what they want the public to hear or just keep quiet. Later, private outfits spring up selling land that belonged to the multinationals.
In the counties of Kiambu, Murang’a, Kericho, Nandi, Turkana, Siaya and Kajiado – the governors have shown strong interest in land owned by multinational companies. In fact, it is reported that some of the governors have already earned their parts of the bargains from companies seeking to renew land leases or change use from agriculture to commercial.
SOCFINAF Company Ltd, a company owned by foreign investors developing a multi-billion shilling city in the area, owns over 5000 acres in Kiambu county near Thika Town. It is alleged that former Kiambu governor, William Kabogo, now owns 1,000 acres of SOCFINAF land, whose prices have skyrocketed as development gets under way. It is reported that Kabogo acquired the land while serving as the governor of Kiambu County when the foreigners who had bought the land in 2007 sought to renew the leases.
It still remains unclear how Kabogo acquired the vast piece of land as there has never been an audit on how he came to gain about 1000 acres of land from the project.
Though he has yet to come out openly, those close to him say he is keen to run against Mr Waititu in 2022 hence his interest in county matters. With such finances, Kabogo, is likely to influence national politics, especially in Central Kenya where he is impelling opposition against Deputy President William Ruto.
When he entered office last year, Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu bargained a deal with Del Monte, the American juice manufacturer that holds 22,000 acres cutting across Kiambu and Murang’a counties.
On September 7th, Waititu renewed the leasehold of Del Monte Kenya’s 8,000-acre land in Kiambu for another 99 years. In return, Del Monte agreed to surrender 635 acres to the county.
However, the move has been given a suspicious verdict with conflicting details on exactly how much land was surrendered by Del Monte.
Thika Town MP Patrick Wainaina says a total of 1000 acres was surrendered by Del Monte but the Governor has kept the finer details of the lease agreement secret.
Kiambu Women Representative Gathoni wa Muchomba went ahead to file a complaint with the National Land Commission demanding a report explaining how the deal between Del Monte and the county government of Kiambu was arrived at and the actual number of acreage surrendered.
In Murang’a, Governor Mwangi wa Iria, is demanding that Del Monte Surrenders 3,000 acres of the 14,000 acres they own in the county, before he signs the lease renewal, forcing the company to resort to court process.
In suit papers filed in court in 2015, Del Monte Managing Director Stergios Gkaliamoutsas indicated that political leaders from Murang’a had demanded more than 3,000 acres of land from Del Monte as a condition to renew the lease that expires next year.
Governor Mwangi wa Iria, claims he intends to use the 3,000 acres to set up a resort city in the county.
Kericho and Nandi
The governors from Nandi, Bomet and Kericho are not only seeking to take over multinational tea companies’ land whose leases have expired, they are also demanding for compensation from the British government for forcible eviction of local communities during the colonial era.
Land leases for most of the companies have expired and the county governments want them handed over to their administrations. The companies operating in the area include James Finlay, Unilever and George Williamson among others.
In fact, Nandi Governor Stephen Sang and Kericho Governor Paul Chepkwony are pushing for the creation of a public company to manage multinational tea companies, hoping to force the companies to cede some land and other resources.
In Nyanza, the Dominion Farms allegedly operate at the mercy of Raila Odinga and Siaya Governor Cornell Rasanga. In the past, the investor claimed that Mr Odinga and other politicians allied to him are frustrating his business through extortion, violence and eviction threats.
Dominion Farms came to Kenya’s Yala Swamp Basin in 2004 after Calvin Burgess secured a 25-year lease with the Kenyan government for approximately 17,000 acres of swampland in 2003
In 2010, the investor gave the county 900 acres adding to the 2,500 acres that the community already had.
Tata Chemicals, formerly Magadi Soda, found itself at loggerheads with Kajiado Governor Joseph ole Lenku over land rates running into billions of shillings after a fallout on the mining of soda ash on Lake Magadi.
Tata Chemicals Ltd reportedly owes the county Ksh17 billion in rates for 224,991 acres of land for the last 6 years.
Ole Lenku insists the company must pay the full amount or face auction, going against a “gentleman’s agreement” reached between Tata Chemicals and then Governor David Nkedianye 3 years ago on reducing the rate from Sh14,000 to Sh120 per acre.
While Ole Lenku might be justified in demanding what’s due to the county, his approach reeks of the arm-twisting tactics being used by his fellow governors in other counties to corner the multinational managers into submission.
Turkana Governor Josphat Nanok has not been too excited about sharing revenues. The mining company, Tullow Oil, was under siege for months, a few weeks after President Kenyatta flagged off the first batch of crude oil from Ngamia 8 to the Mombasa port in preparation for exportation.
Residents, led by the governor and other political leaders, paralyzed oil drilling with violent demonstrations. The government intervened and gazetted Turkana Grievances Management Committee to spearhead engagement with the local community.
In other words, this is just another way for a public issue to be sorted out privately, where political and government officials can hammer out deals that eventually only disfavor the public.