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Economy

Court backs Moi’s Sh400m land deal

Kenya Wildlife Service spokesperson Paul Gathitu. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Kenya Wildlife Service spokesperson Paul Gathitu. FILE PHOTO | NMG  

Former President Daniel arap Moi has received the court backing on his sale of 17,000 acres of land in Laikipia to become a national park in a Sh400 million deal despite opposition from the local community.

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in 2011 bought the land from retired president Daniel arap Moi at a cost of Sh400 million and plans to purchase more in Laikipia, Maasai Mara and Amboseli to establish new parks.

Community leaders and US-based Centre for International Human Rights Law and Advocacy opposed the sale, arguing people will be evicted to pave way for the creation of the national facility.

After an eight-year court battle, judges last month rejected their claim, clearing the way for the land to be turned into Laikipia National Park, managed by government-owned KWS.

“The positive ruling is great news,” Mr Paul Gathitu, a spokesman for KWS said in emailed comments, adding that the agency can now “take full control of the property” which the Samburu say is home to thousands of their people.

Laikipia is Kenya’s second most important wildlife region after the Maasai Mara, with elephants, lions and rare rhinos roaming its vast plains.

Fearing eviction, the Samburu have filed a notice of appeal in Nyeri’s environmental and land court.

“We are dissatisfied with the judgment,” their lawyer, Lempaa Suyianka, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.

“Here are people with no alternative places to live, people who were born there... They have nowhere else to go.”

The case attracted international attention because the disputed land, Eland Downs, was sold for $4 million by Kenya’s longest-serving president, Daniel arap Moi, in 2008 to the Washington-based African Wildlife Foundation (AWF).

Half of the funding came from The Nature Conservancy (TNC), one of the largest US environmental charities.

At its heart, the dispute is about whether the Samburu squatted on the land from the early 1980s, as they testified in court, or whether they invaded after AWF bought it.

“When we acquired the property it was vacant,” Kathleen Fitzgerald, AWF’s vice president for East African programmes said in a phone interview.

“When there were invasions on the property... we essentially said the landowner needed to sort out the matter.”

The former president acquired thousands of acres of land during his 24-year rule and has in the past few years come under pressure from the current administration and civil rights activists to revert some of it to the State.

In its June judgment, the court dismissed the adverse possession claim as Moi only owned the land for 11 years prior to the 2009 evictions, after buying it in late 1997 from Ol Pejeta, a cattle ranch.

It did not consider the period from 1981 to 1997, when the Samburu said they also lived there, because Ol Pejeta, which received the title to the land in 1962 from the colonial government, was not named as a respondent in the case.

Laikipia is a tourism circuit popular with high-end tourists keen on luxury offering such as tented camps and it hosts prominent resorts such as Ol Pejeta, Lewa and Loisaba.

It has hosted prominent visitors such as British royals Prince William and his wife Kate Middleton.

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