Families with houses built on contested East African Portland Company (EAPCC) land are counting losses after the government moved in to demolish the residences in line with a directive issued by President William Ruto.
The Head of State had earlier raised concerns that the wealthy families residing on the land had grabbed the parcels from large tracts of land earmarked for the cement company.
An alert over the alleged grabbing was first raised by Tourism Cabinet Secretary Alfred Mutua, then the Machakos Governor, in 2015 when he wrote a letter to the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), then headed by Halakhe Waqo.
At the time, Mutua argued that a prominent MP had colluded with officials from the Ministry of Lands to transfer squatters to the area which he argued was the perfect recipe for land grabbing.
A photo collage of homes demolished in Athi River on October 13, 2023, after President William Ruto’s directive.
“The land, leased to East African Portland Cement Company Limited, has started being grabbed, sub-divided and sold, without the knowledge of the East African Portland Cement Company Limited Board and my Government of Machakos. According to the Portland Board, documents in their possession show that the leases are far from expiring,” read the letter in part.
“Our initial investigations show that squatters were imported to the said land a few months ago to create the environment for land invasion and grabbing.”
The former Governor further claimed wealthy individuals had moved in and blatantly started building mansions on the land against the law.
“Already, people have been sold plots and started constructing. My Government has not approved sub-division, planning or building permits. Many people, we suspect, have been conned. If this matter is not handled expeditiously, we fear that it may culminate in bloodshed,” he added.
The letter was copied to the then Lands CS Fred Matiang’i, Former Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua and former National Lands Commission Chairman Mohammed Swazuri.
It, however, remains unclear whether the authorities acted on the letter in question.
On Friday, Ruto ordered the grabbed land to be recovered and transferred to the Export Processing Zones (EPZ) in Athi River.
“I have given clear instructions to the management here that all speculators, people who have held titles to pieces of land for 10, 15, 20, 30 years without developing them, should be revoked so that we can give it to people who want to use this facility,” he directed.
His directive was informed by a recent court ruling in which a suit filed in 2014 by some of the occupants of the land was dismissed by a Machakos Court.
“It is hereby ordered that the Plaintiff’s suit be and is hereby struck out with costs to the Defendant, a copy of the proceeding and today’s ruling be supplied to the parties on payment of court fees,” ruled Lady Justice A. Nyukuri.
Tourism CS Alfred Mutua at a meeting in New York in September 2023.