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

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - 9 - BY JUSTUS WANGA

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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.

Tea pol­i­tics

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.

Do­min­ion ques­tion

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.

Salty af­fair

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.

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