Bleak future for multinationals as governors scramble for land
At centre of dispute are thousands of acres owned by farming, mining and drilling firms whose leases have or are about to expire
At least five governors are entangled in a heated war with multinational companies over the fate of land whose leases are expiring.
In the name of securing community interest, some of the county chiefs have presented a host of demands before any lease renewals can be undertaken, others rejecting the idea altogether amid accusations of brinkmanship and underhand boardroom dealings.
While they are keen to wrest ownership from the big companies, it is their hope the concerted bargain will see the regions that lost their ancestral land — annexed during colonisation — get it all back or at least part of it. The new battlefront is said to have attracted the attention of President Uhuru Kenyatta with reports that some of the embassies may have sought his intervention.
For some of the governors, land has become a negotiating tool for future political survival.
Governors from tea-growing counties in Rift Valley are going a step further in their narrative. Led by Nandi Governor Stephen Sang, they are seeking to take over altogether multinational tea companies' land whose leases have expired. Besides, the Nandi, Bomet and Kericho governors are pushing for compensation from the British government for forcible eviction of local communities during the colonial era.
“Thousands of hectares of our land in what came to be the white highlands in Rift Valley were forcibly taken away from indigenous communities by the British colonial government during the First and Second World wars. Following the expired leases, such must be returned to those communities,” Mr Sang said on Friday.
The companies operating in the area include James Finlay, Unilever and George Williamson.
Mr Sang and his Kericho counterpart Paul Chepkwony are pushing for the creation of a public company to manage multinational tea companies. The expectation is that this will force the companies to the negotiating table where they can cede some form of land or other resources.
Kabogo vs Waititu
In September, Del Monte Kenya Ltd signed an agreement with Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu renewing a lease of the 8,000-acre piece of land for another 99 years. In the arrangement, the company surrendered 635 acres of the land back to the county. Mr Waititu fought off claims he may have directly benefited in the negotiations.
Former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo, who was opposed to the renewal when he was in office, has not been spared in the raging war. Socfinaf — a company associated with him — is alleged to have benefited. Mr Kabogo did not pick up our calls or respond to text messages regarding the claim. Although 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.
Woman Representative Gathoni wa Muchomba filed a complaint with the National Land Commission demanding details of the deal and the actual number of acreage surrendered. It is Thika Town MP Patrick Wainaina who cast doubts in the process when he alleged a total of 1,000 acres were surrendered and not 635 as reported, a claim the governor has denied.
Governor stays put
In the neighbouring Murang'a, Governor Mwangi wa Iria is not keen on renewing Del Monte's lease for the 14,000 acres of land unless the firm cedes 6,000. The tenancy there is expected to expire next year. “We will not renew the leasehold for Del Monte until we get land which will pave way for construction of a city along Thika-kenol highway,” the governor said.
Mr Wa Iria is demanding 3,000 acres before he signs the lease renewal, forcing the company to resort to court process.
There are fears among residents the political class may benefit illegally from the transaction.
Residents of Kandara, who had filed a case against renewal of the leasehold, have agreed to settle their case out of court.
In Nyanza, the fate of Dominion farms is in limbo after the owner, Calvin Burgess, fled the region claiming a hostile working environment. Mr Burgess had claimed local politicians led by Siaya Governor Cornel Rasanga were frustrating his business.
Dominion Farms came to Kenya's Yala Swamp Basin in 2004 with the promise to bring US style progress to Africa. In 2003, Mr Burgess secured a 25year lease with the government for approximately 17,000 acres of swampland.
Now the area political leadership is out to have a share of the land and they are accused of using threats against the company's management.
While the land belongs to the county government, the 25-year lease is yet to lapse. The Siaya government says that, in his absence, it has no option but to take it back. Mr Rasanga, however, denies reports that he had secretly engaged another investor to take over management of the expansive farm.
In mid-november, a low-profile fallout with far-reaching implications on the mining of soda ash on Lake Magadi shook Maasai land. Tata Chemicals Ltd, formerly Magadi Soda, found itself on the receiving end of Kajiado Governor Joseph ole Lenku over land rates running into billions of shillings.
Tata Chemicals reportedly owes the county Sh17 billion in rates for 224,991 acres of land for the last six years.
Mr 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 three years ago on reducing the rate from Sh14,000 to Sh120 per acre.
Oiling wheels of fortune
Further North, outspoken Turkana Governor Josephat Nanok has been breathing fire over sharing of oil 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 of the commodity under the Early Oil Pilot Scheme. Residents, led by the governor and other political leaders, paralysed oil drilling with violent demonstrations.
The government intervened and gazetted Turkana Grievances Management Committee to spearhead engagement with the local community.
Kandara Residents Association Chairman Philip Kamau briefs members after a meeting with Del Monte’s management over a land dispute. The farm’s leasehold is at the centre of a dispute.