Community land row hits sugar millers’ privatisation plan


Entrance of Miwani Sugar Factory in Kisumu County. PHOTO | TONNY OMONDI | NMG

Privatisation of State-owned sugar mills in Nyanza region has been hit by a fresh setback following a land row pitting a local community against two firms.

In the row, more than 5,426 residents of Kajulu in Kisumu County have gone to court seeking to repossess 46,000 acres of land in Kibos, Miwani and Chemelil after the expiry of long-term leases for big firms.

Another project that is also likely to be affected by the dispute is the housing unit plan known as Kibos Meadows Project, being undertaken by Safaricom Investment Cooperative.

The entity is re-selling the said parcels at Sh640,000 for a quarter acre.

According to court documents, the parcels of land were excised between 1901 and 1906 and granted to Asian farmers for sugarcane grwowing on 99-year leases.

The petitioners are claiming the parcels were compulsorily acquired by the government forcing them to cross the border to South Nyanza and Tanzania.

According to the case, the Kajulu people settled in the Kithimo area during the pre-colonial era.

They are said to have acquired the land after a fierce fighting with the Nandi, culminating in an actual settlement in about 1877 which continued up to around 1859 when they were ordered out to pave way for the Indian coolies constructing the Mombasa/Kampala Port Florence railway line.

The leases have however expired and the residents are now demanding cancellation of what they termed a flawed process and prioritisation of ancestral owners in the new leases.

Further, they are demanding that any intended privatisation of Chemelil Sugar Company Limited and Miwani Sugar Company Limited must factor in the community’s interests.

In the lawsuit filed before Kisumu Environment and Lands Court judge Anthony Ombwayo, Kajulu Kithimo Welfare Association has sued through its registered officials, John Omollo Ondiek and Joseph Aswes Dianga, has listed the National Lands Commission and Privatisation Commission as first and second respondents respectively.

In the notice of motion, the residents want the court to issue a temporary injunction restraining NLC, their agents or any person under their authority from renewing the leases for the farms, pending hearing and determination of the case.

The said ancestral farms measuring 39,460 acres are in Miwani West, Miwani Central, Miwani East, Miwani North, Nyangore and Chemelil.

Their leases are said to have expired between 2002 and 2005.

“This court should restrain the Privatization Commission from continuing with intended process in respect to government shares in Miwani and Chemelil sugar companies particularly their 16, 645.1 acres of land confirmed by the NLC,” read the motion.

The petitioners have laid six grounds on which they want the process stopped among them, is that there is sufficient cause in terms of public interest given that the landless members numbering over 5, 000 are in impoverished to warrant orders sought.

The second ground is that the Lands Commission, in a ruling issued on February 7, 2019, erroneously disallowed the petitioner’s claiming respect of the ancestral land rights at Kithimo.

In the suit, the petitioners are also pointing out that communication by the Privatization Commission dated July 29, 2019, to both petitioners and NLC, did indicate that it had no powers to transfer lands to the landless, hence it could not implement the directives.

On January 17, Justice Ombwayo declined to certify the matter as urgent fixing the matter for hearing on March 2.