Over three hundred farmers of Maktau village in Mwatate sub-county on Saturday demonstrated against threats of eviction by Isanga-Iwishi ranch officials whom they accused of illegally appropriating their ancestral land and plotting to kick them out.
The furious farmers marched for over four kilometers from Maktau shopping centre along the Voi-Taveta Highway heading to a site the ranch officials are said to have allocated land to undisclosed local university.
However, they were intercepted by a contingent of heavily armed police officers from Mwatate police station who termed the demonstration as illegal since no permit had been issued by the local administration.
Mr Musa Mkalla, one of the affected farmers, said they had lived in the area since the 1940s and never had land ownership issues until recently when the Isanga-Iwishi officials started sending eviction notices.
“This is our ancestral land. How can the ranch officials come and claim they own this land?” he posed.
There has been a protracted row between the Isanga-Iwishi ranch and residents of Maktau who are considered as illegal squatters in the 15,000-acre ranch.
Last year, the residents were issued with an eviction notice after a court ruling stated the vast ranch was owned by Isanga-Iwishi registered members. Already, the ranch which was registered in 1970 has 1,940 members.
While officials claim they got the land legitimately, the local residents say they were deliberately left out when members were being registered yet the ranch was their ancestral land.
Mr Mkalla said previous leaders took advantage of the community’s ignorance to register the land and leave the locals out.
“All our leaders have never been local residents. They had come from other locations and took advantage of our ignorance. They took our land and now call us squatters,” he said.
Ms Mary Mambori, another farmer, said there was a plot to evict over 20,000 farmers from the land and sell their farms to outsiders. She added that though she had attended several meetings demanding answers on why residents have never been consulted over the land matter, no one had ever offered the right answer.
She added that current residents of the area were fourth generation of their forefathers and they were now determined to fight for their land over fears they would leave their children with land troubles.
“We have seen what these officials are capable of. We want to settle this issue of land because we want our children to grow up in peace,” she said.
The demonstration almost descended into chaos after a senior police officer from Mwatate taunted the angry farmers. It took the efforts of Mwatate Assistant County Commissioner Dennis Juma, to calm down the farmers and ask them to find alternative ways of handling the issues.
“The justice you seek cannot be found in roads. There are agencies that deal with land matters that will grant you what you want,” he said.
Mr James Mwafunja, an elder, stated that the local residents had a right to be allowed to live peacefully in their land. He added that there was a lot of anxiety in the region as the ranch officials were aggressively attempting to evict the residents.
“The ranch officials have been colluding with some rogue officials in the ministry of lands for how do you explain that title deed was issued within days after application?” he asked.
The members of Isanga-Iwishi are largely drawn from Bura area according to ancient agreements amongst elders who allocated land as per villages.
by Wagema Mwangi