When Karwitha Isaac’s land dispute took too long to be determined at the Land and Environment Court in Milimani, Nairobi, she withdrew it and filed the matter with the Njuri Ncheke elders’ court.
Ms Karwitha says she was disappointed the case was taking too long to be concluded, hence her decision to transfer it to the elders, where justice is swifter.
Her problems started when she borrowed Sh100,000 from Kinge Kitonga, a shylock based in Meru town.
“I surrendered to Kitonga the title deed for my quarter-acre with an agreement that I would pay back Sh180,000 (with Sh80,000 as interest). I needed the money urgently,” said Karwitha, a teacher.
Unknown to her, Kitonga used the title deed to secure a bank loan of Sh6.5 million, she says.
“I paid him the loan but he could not produce my title, so I went to court,” she said.
Numerous trips to Nairobi for the case took a toll on her finances.
“I sought the help of the Njuri court after I withdrew the (formal) court case. I tabled all the receipts. The elders summoned Kitonga but he at first refused to appear before them,” she said.
Julius M’Ngai, one of the judges at the Njuri court, said they usually issue a maximum of three summons, before taking “drastic” measures against defiant accused persons.
When The Standard visited the elders’ court session at Mukuune village in Tigania West on Wednesday, we found locals who had thronged the precinct to hear their cases.
We found accused persons, witnesses and others sitting in the compound that is owned by the Njuri, and supported by the National Museum of Kenya.
On Wednesday, the bench headed by M’Mugambi M’Mwirabua, was supposed to issue its ruling in Karwitha’s case against Kitonga, but the latter had not arrived.
Other ‘judges’, aged between 40 and 70, include Julius Mbogori and Julius M’Ngai.
The court was also hearing a land case involving Zipporah Kananu, the daughter of Julius Mungania.
Ms Kananu accused her brother Stanley Nturibi and his wife of attempting to drive her out of land where she had built a house.
She also told the court that Nturibi and his wife had called her a witch.
Mungania said the land occupied by the couple and her daughter (Kananu) belonged to him but he had allowed them to put up houses.
“They want me out of the compound and have been doing everything to frustrate me. They call me despicable names all the time,” said Kananu, a teacher, and asked the elders to intervene.
The court directed the accused to appear before it next Wednesday, August 30.
In another case, Rimberia Mwongo has accused her daughter, Mercy Karangana, of incessantly calling his wife a witch.
“My own daughter is calling my wife a witch. My wife is distraught and her reputation has suffered. I need elders to intervene,” said Mwongo, a retired teacher.
The majority of cases at the traditional court are land-related, and ‘judge’ Mbogori says unlike the formal judicial system, they take a far shorter period to conclude cases.
“We handle debt default, assault, fraud, theft, divorce and defamation cases. But the bulk of workload is land-related. As elders, we understand the local area very well and we are able to easily establish ownership,” he said.
The cost of filing cases is negotiable. “We impose fines and even have parties pay for cost of cases. That is the money we use to improve our offices,” said Mbogori.