Thousands risk losing land in Embakasi’s irregular deals

A section of Embakasi in Nairobi. The list of land owners with allotment letters that have no legal value includes senior civil servants and non-members who have been buying plots from the company in a twisty land buying craze. Photo/FREDRICK OMONDI
A section of Embakasi in Nairobi. The list of land owners with allotment letters that have no legal value includes senior civil servants and non-members who have been buying plots from the company in a twisty land buying craze. Photo/FREDRICK OMONDI 

Thousands of real estate owners in Nairobi’s Embakasi area risk losing their investments following revelations that they have been pumping millions of Shillings developing land with questionable legal status.

The majority of the landowners, now facing the risk of eviction, had bought land from a ranching company that claimed to have purchased it from the government more than 30 years ago.

But in what could be the biggest land buying crisis in Nairobi, it has emerged that the 14,000-acre land that has been subdivided into thousands of pieces and sold to individuals is government land.

An extra 16,000 quarter-acre plots in same area have no chance of getting title deeds unless the firm repossess public utility land it has dished out to individuals irregularly.

The plots, valued at billions of Shillings at current rates, have over the years been surveyed and sold to members of the Embakasi Ranching Company – a land buying firm that former area MP Muhuri Muchiri founded in 1975.

Though members claim to have bought the land from the Settlement Fund Trustee, the mother title is still held by the government and there is no evidence of any money having been paid to the fund – pointing to the fact that the plot owners might never get title deeds.

The list of land owners with allotment letters that have no legal value includes senior civil servants and non-members who have been buying the quarter-acre plots from the company.

Investigations carried out on the Embakasi Ranching Company by the Efficiency Monitoring Unit at the Office of the Prime Minister found that there “are cases of alterations of the original plans leading to the sale of the (public) plots to specific people or groups at extremely low price who immediately dispose of it at exorbitant prices.”

The report is dated March 9, 2010 and signed by A.A. Mondoh, who was then the acting PS at the PM’s office.

The letter was copied to Land minister James Or ngo and permanent secretary Dorothy Angote.

Ownership of the land is expected to be top on the agenda when the ranch members meet on Tuesday, March 23 for an Annual General Meeting ordered by the High Court.

How it will be resolved remains a herculean task – even for government officials.

City Council land rates and government documents indicate that Block 136 with 14,000 acres — the largest of the Embakasi Ranching Company farms — belongs to the Settlement Fund Trustee (SFT), a government agency that was to sell land vacated by white settlers to locals.

It turned out that though members of the company claim to have paid for the land, the “Mother Title” is still in SFT’s name.

Audit reports

Mr Mwangi Thuita, who is the chairman of the company, insisted that the group has a title for the block despite some audit reports and land rate documents showing the contrary.

“It is not under SFT. But come to my office we talk,” he told this writer. (We have not verified his claim independently.)

Embakasi Ranching Company and the land it owns remains one of independent Kenya’s most explosive property crises in the past three decades.

It has left investors who have built multi-storied flats and other dwellings in parts of Ruai suburb with nothing to show for property they claim to own.

Though records indicate that the company’s auditor raised concern over the absence of the mother title for block 136 in 2006, officials went ahead and sub-divided it after getting what has turned out to be fake parcel numbers from the lands office and surveyors.

“The Institute of Surveyors should consider withdrawing and/or taking appropriate action on licensed members who are alleged to have been involved in unauthorised alterations of original plans,” says the EMU report.

Embakasi Ranching Company manager Daniel Kimani refused to discuss the matter of double allocations or answer any question on the subject.

Unsuspecting individuals who purchased the land from the company on the strength of the LR numbers are in trouble because they have little chance of getting title deeds.

This has however not prevented the land dealers from selling it.

The land is still changing hands at the offices of Embakasi Ranching Company where the cost of a non-member certificate ranges from Sh8,000 to Sh52,000.

Those seeking to transfer the land to a new buyer must pay the company Sh20,000.

“This is totally irregular. It is the height of impunity,” says former Nairobi Mayor Dick Waweru, who is a member of the company.

The number of Embakasi Ranching Company membership has soared above the available plots – and the court has ordered the firm to produce the names of the original members.

Originally, the company had 12,000 members who were to be allocated a quarter of an acre each from the expansive land the firm owned in Embakasi, Kajiado and Kitengela.

While it has a title for Block 105 in Nairobi’s Njiru area where its headquarters are located, only a few members of the company have a chance of getting titles.

This is because the mandatory public utility plots that were to be set aside in the locality have all been allocated to individuals.

While documents indicate that subdivision of the land was approved in 1991, the company was to set aside some 500 acres, or 10 per cent of the land for public utility before embarking on actual subdivision.

Documents show that another subdivision of the same land was done in 2005 and half of the land for public use was allocated to individuals who have since found it impossible to obtain titles.

“We have been left holding worthless share certificates and we don’t know what we can do with them,” said Mr John Mwaniki Kiarie, a member of a group that is seeking a quick solution to the problem.

Mr Kiarie and his group estimate that of the 18,000 quarter-acre plots that were surveyed in Block 105, only 2,000 have the chance of getting title-deeds.

Approvals for subdivision

“We have met government officials who have insisted that we show them where the public utility land is before any approvals for subdivision can be done,” said Mr Kiarie, the vice chairman of Ruai Residents Welfare Association, a body that is fighting to get the land documents in order. “The problem is that there is no public land.”

Land originally owned by poor members has changed hands many times — thanks to unscrupulous officials ­— with the register now reading like a who is who is Nairobi’s Eastland politics, police, civil service and the provincial administration.

“This is where the problem begins. The original members have been pushed aside and today we have non-members owning land in our farm,” said Mr Waweru, a former Nairobi Mayor.

Records show that most of the new members were allocated the land from 2006 despite the same pieces of land having been allocated earlier to original members.