As herdsmen invade private ranches in parts of Laikipia, another land conflict is brewing but at the moment it is confined to boardrooms in Nairobi. Land brokers are suspected to have infiltrated government records and created alternative title deeds which they are using to lay claim to vast plains extending from Narok to Naivasha.
At the centre of the alleged manipulations is Kedong Ranch. The 75,000-acre ranch has, over the last decade, attracted lawsuits over its ownership. A title deed whose authenticity has been questioned purports to support ownership of a 28,285 ha (69,893 acres) of land in Narok and registered under Fredswood Traders Company. An examination of the purported deed plan shows the area falls on Kedong Ranch.
The Chief Lands Registrar in a letter dated January 31, 2017 disowned the title deed: “Kindly note that our records (IR No. 11977) indicate that the certificate of title in respect of LR No. 8396/8 was issued to Kedong Ranch Ltd.”
The anomalies on the purported title deed are glaring.
Its land reference number is 8396/7 which, according to government records, ceased to exist after the land was demarcated two years ago, and a part sold to KenGen Company and the new number 8396/8 was given. The suspected fake title says it is a 999-year lease given in 1950.
It is with this title that unsuspecting land speculators are targeted.
The marketing gimmick is that the government has set aside a big budget to purchase parts of Kedong Ranch; first because it lies on the proposed route of the Nairobi-Naivasha Standard Gauge Railway. Secondly, the government will acquire more land for KenGen’s Olkaria 5 geothermal power project.
On the ground, the matter erupted after Kedong Ranch Limited placed a caveat in form of a paid-for advertisement in newspapers on January 24, 2017.
“This is to notify any third party interested in the property to be aware and deal with Kedong Ranch Ltd only. Anybody found on the property without express authority of Kedong Ranch Limited will be prosecuted for the offence of trespass.”
During a visit to the area, we established that individuals have invaded parts of the ranch and demarcated parcels for themselves. Some are secured with barbed wire while others are not. There are manyattas and some permanent homes have been built. In other sections, there are churches and schools.
Ahead of the General Election, local politicians are encouraging residents in Kedong to claim the land as a way of campaigning. Under the stewardship of politicians, residents recently blocked the Narok-Suswa road to demonstrate against what they called invasion of their land. The Kedong Ranch controversy is not new. The expansive land South of Lake Naivasha was registered in 1971. Most of the vast land is bare, some areas are bushland and others forested.
In the court case that started in 2010, the Maasai community wanted to become entitled to it by adverse possession of over 12 years. The community was represented by 12 plaintiffs who claimed they were born there and had not known any other home. The Maasai also claimed they occupied 40,000 acres of the disputed land, while Kedong said only 1,700 acres had manyattas and other semi-permanent buildings and the rest was a vast bushland.
But the argument by Kedong was that even some of the people listed as complainants had long died. The court ordered an aerial survey of the land.
It was carried out by Naturesurf Systems that established “the area is characterised by a vast bare and bushland with few homesteads sparsely distributed on the southern part. It lacks amenities that would support permanent settlement like schools, hospitals, shops, water points or powerlines. Most of temporary structures on the southern part have been abandoned.”
After five years of legal dispute, nakuru Judge L.N. Waithaka dismissed plaintiffs’ prayers.