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Elders Want Leased Ranch Reverted to Community

Storm is brewing over the ownership of 6000-acre Mkuki Ranch in Mwatate Sub-county after a local Council of Elders wrote to the government objecting to plans to convert the ranch into a private company as they demanded for the ranch to be repossessed following the expiry of a 45-year lease-period on January this year.
Mr. Ludlordvick Mcharo, the chairperson of Chawia Council of Elders, said the 45-year lease for Mkuki Ranch was issued in 1975 and had expired on January 1, 2020.
He said that, Mkuki ranch occupying 2454 hectares, was now supposed to revert back to the community members with the county government acting as the custodian of the same.
Speaking in Mwatate during a meeting with other members of the council on Saturday, Mr. Mcharo disclosed that there were efforts to avoid handing back the land to the community and instead register the ranch as a private company under Mkuki Ranch Limited.
He further noted that such efforts were illegal as they continued to disinherit over 7,000 members of Chawia community their constitutional rights to own their ancestral land.
“This land was leased to the owner of the ranch for 45-years. The lease has expired and we need the land to come back to the rightful owners,” he said.
Documents seen by KNA shows that Mkuki Ranch was leased to the late Brigadier Cromwell Oliver Mkungusi for 45 years from January 1, 1975. The ranch was to pay an annual rent of sh1, 615 for the first ten years and sh2, 690 afterwards.
Mr. Mcharo alleged that due to lack of proper management, the ranch has become a security risk to the locals owing to influx of illegal herders who are regarded as security threat.
“We need this land to develop and settle our landless people,” he said.
The elders said they got concerned after they learnt that records at the registrar of companies showed the ranch reverting to a private limited company.
Amongst those listed as directors are two local MPs including area legislator Andrew Mwadime. Other directors and shareholders include powerful people and family members of the Mkuki Ranch owner.
The council has written to several agencies including National Land Commission, the Governor and the County Assembly of Taita-Taveta asking for the land to be handed back to the community.
“The county through the County Executive Member for land has assured us of its support. We are waiting for county to formally write to NLC over this matter,” he said.
In a rejoinder, Mr. Eugene Micho, a director vested with power of attorney to act for Mkuki Ranch, said the ranch was a private entity with active directors who were managing the running of the ranch. He disclosed that they were in the process of renewing the lease and had been given a grace period of upto 2021.
Mr. Micho said the owners had interest of continuing to manage the land.
“This is a private entity that is managed by individuals. We are pursuing the lease renewal in accordance with the law,” he said.
Mr. Onesmus Mwabule, another director with powers of attorney, pointed that as a private ranch, Mkuki was neither classified as a community or a group ranch. Other private ranches in the region are Choke, Mwasui and Luarenyi.
Mr. Mwabule stated that calling for a private land to be repossessed is violating the government’s stance on land ownership. He added that further plans were underway to streamline the operations in Mkuki ranch which had seen massive degradation from illegal miners who flood the ranch in search of precious stones.
“This push to have a private ranch taken over by the county is in bad faith. These so-called elders have an ulterior motive,” he said.
When contacted, Mwatate MP Andrew Mwadime said he hoped the land would go back to the local community.
“I want the ranch to remain with our people. This is still my stand,” he said.
The elders however viewed the MP’s assurance with skepticism. They said the MP never sat down with the council of elders for a nod to represent them in the proposed company.
“We never sat down to agree if he should represent us there. How can we know if he is not a director in his individual capacity?” posed the Mr. Mcharo.
Nominated Member of County Assembly Christopher Mwambingu said he had asked for a status of the ranch from the county executive member for lands. He regretted that Coronavirus outbreak had disrupted the sittings but vowed to pursue the matter.
By Wagema Mwangi

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