It goes without saying that land is one of the most valuable thing to own anywhere, more so here in Kenya. Its value keeps going up and signs of the speculated bubble bursting are nowhere to be seen.
This rush to acquire pieces of land has led to opening up of areas which were deemed impossible just a few years ago. While the vast majority of Kenyans are playing in the minor leagues, fighting each other over small 50 x 100 plots, a select few have gone straight to the majors.
A review of various counties have found that the next battlefront for those in position of leadership is large swathes of land, held by multinational companies mostly for agricultural purposes. Many of these lands had been leased for long periods of time, but now time to renew has arrived.
According to sources, renew of these leases and approval of new developments have become a big avenue for demanding kickbacks.
Some of these governors have appeared in public threatening the multi-nationals with ending their leases, if new favourable terms are not arrived at. However, this is being interpreted as playing to the public gallery, while in real sense they are just pumping fear into these companies’ management. This then translates to better private deals for themselves when they retreat behind closed doors.
In Kiambu, coffee farms are giving way to flashy malls and real estate projects, while in Turkana, oil is expected to flow in plenty. Muranga, Kericho, Nandi, Siaya and Kajiado are other counties which have some big multi-national presence, and where county leadership is said to have arm-twisted said companies.
Kiambu County: Kabogo vs Waititu
In Kiambu county, just near Thika town, lies over 5,000 acres of land belonging to SOCFINAF Company Ltd, which is owned by foreign investors developing a multi-billion shilling city. This was one of the coffee plantations, but its Belgian owners have decided to seek greener pastures in real estate.
Former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo is claimed to own, mysteriously, 1000 acres of this piece of land. According to sources, Kabogo bargained for a piece of this land while serving as governor. With transfer of ownership happening just around the time of lease renewal, it can only be anyone’s guess what transpired.
With such a huge asset in his pockets, Kabogo is said to be getting ready to mount a serious political comeback in 2022, when he is said to be eyeing the same seat he lost last year. Already, there are signs of early campaigns from Kabogo, especially on social media where he is often critical of his successor. Some social media trends, like the recent #ImpeachWaititu, is seen by observers as having been sponsored by Waititu’s rivals, with most fingers pointed at Kabogo.
However, with Kabogo also increasingly taking on national matters, we cannot rule him out of taking a stab at a more national seat.
That’s not to say that Waititu is sitting still ready for the ambush. As the incumbent, it can be assumed that he is also lining up a warchest ready to take on his likely rival in 2022.
Now, when Waititu took over in Kiambu, dinner was already served by Socfinaf, with his predecessor taking the spoils. But the county of Kiambu had more to offer the incoming governor. Del Monte, and their 22,000 acres of land proved a prime target.
The Californian juice and food manufacturer has been in Kenya for decades, and has over that time called Kiambu and Muranga home. It’s vast piece of land is spread out across both counties, with Muranga taking the lion’s share, at 14,000 acres.
The remaining almost 9000 acres are no small fit, and Waititu decided to capitalize on that. On September 7th, Waititu renewed Del Monte’s leasehold of 8,000 acres for a further 99 years, and in exchange Kiambu county received 635 acres. How the juice manufacturer got such a great deal over such a long period of time, once again without very obvious benefits to the community and country, proved that we have not learnt as a country.
Other than that, it also had a suspicious smell to it.
Thika Town MP Patrick Wainaina claimed that the total surrendered acreage was in fact 1,000 acres, but the governor only declared 635 acres. Kiambu Woman Representative Gathoni wa Muchomba even filed a complaint with the National Land Commission demanding a comprehensive report on all the details of the transaction.
Del Monte in Muranga
While Del Monte may have found it relatively smooth in Kiambu, it’s a different song in Muranga. Here, they hold 14,000 acres and they have reached a stalemate with the county government as to how much land they should surrender.
Governor Mwangi wa Iria is demanding no less than 3,000 acres before agreeing to renew the lease, a number that Del Monte sees as too much and has resorted to filing a suit in court. In suit papers filed in court in 2015, Del Monte Managing Director Stergios Gkaliamoutsas indicated that political leaders from Murang’a had demanded more than 3,000 acres of land from Del Monte as a condition to renew the lease that expires next year.
According to Wa Iria, Muranga county will use the 3,000 acres to put up a resort city.
Kericho and Nandi Counties – Tea Politics
While pineapples are dominating in Murang’a and Kiambu, tea is at the centre of the land wars in the Rift Valley. Governors here are not only refusing to renew expired leases, but are even threatening to take over the plantations.
Further, Nandi, Bomet and Kericho governors are pushing for the compensation of local communities evicted during the colonial era. Among the companies caught up in this land fight include James Finlay, Unilever and George Williamson.
Appearing to follow the same script as their counterparts in central, the governors are said to be pushing for the extreme, so as to force these companies to the negotiating table while subdued.
Dominion in Siaya
The case of Dominion Farms has made it to the media in the past, with the owner blaming ODM leader Raila Odinga and others allied to him of frustrating and extorting from him.
With 17,000 acres of land under lease from the Kenyan government, Dominion farms has recently been forced to cede 900 acres to the county on top of 2,500 acres to the community.
A salty affair in Kajiado County
Meanwhile in Kajiado, its all about soda ash.
Tata Chemicals, formerly Magadi Soda, found itself on the wrong side of Governor Joseph ole Lenku, over land rates spreading over years and running into billions.
According to the governor, Tata Chemicals Ltd owes Kajiado Ksh17 billion in rates for 224,991 acres of land for the last six years. Ole Lenku insists the company must pay the full amount or face auction.
Turkana’s oil fortune
While Turkana Governor Josphat Nanok seems to have settled his differences with the President over the sharing of oil revenue, it’s not quite clear how the county will deal with the oil companies.
Residents, led by the governor and other political leaders, recently paralyzed Tullow Oil operations with violent demonstrations. This was seen as an all too familiar ploy by the county leadership to arm-twist the company into more favourable terms, and not ruling out a hint of side deal-making.