The tussle over the renewal of Del Monte land lease is taking a fresh lead after a group of Mt Kenya elite activists, led by philanthropist James Kairu, petitioned president Uhuru Kenyatta to encourage the taking over of all Del Monte owned land upon expiry of the lease by the County of Murang’a.
According to Kenyan law, foreign land ownership is often restricted to leasehold basis where international buyers can acquire property only on a 99-year lease. However, on expiry of the leasehold term, the Constitution states, a renewal of the lease may be sought. Article 65 further provides that any document which purports to confer on a foreign investor an interest in land with a lease of more than 99 years is deemed to be null and void.
It is on this basis that the residents are demanding that a 6,000 acre piece of land they claim was grabbed by white settlers from their forefathers returned. They then proposed that 1,000 acres of the land be set aside for a hospital, greenhouse and a cemetery. The stand-off on the land has been in existence for over a decade now, however last month the residents withdrew a case they had filed in court and agreed to negotiate an out of court deal. All the parties involved agreed on the deal but failure by other parties to attend the first meeting aimed at getting a solution caught the residents by surprise.
Del Monte’s 18,000 acres of land are in Murang’a while 8,000 acres are in Kiambu County. Kiambu Governor Ferdinand Waititu renewed the company’s lease last year while the lease in Murang’a is expected to expire next year. Murang’a Governor Mwangi Wa Iria has vowed not to renew the company’s lease for another 99 years unless the company cedes 6,000 acres of land which will pave way for development of a city along the busy Thika-Kabati highway.
“We will not renew the leasehold for Del Monte until we get land which will pave way for construction of a city along Thika-Kenol highway, the governor said in a past interview.
Late last year when the leasehold of Del Monte Kenya’s 8,000-acre land was renewed for another 99 years. In return, the food processing firm surrendered 635 acres to the county of Kiambu. The North American company holds over 22,000 acres in Murang’a and Kiambu counties. Governor Ferdinand Waititu and Del Monte managing director Stergios Gkaliamoutsas signed a memorandum of understanding authenticating the lease in an occasion in Thika town.
Mr Waititu assured the company that his administration would continue to provide a conducive environment to encourage it to invest more in the county. He asked his Murang’a counterpart, Mwangi wa Iria, to follow his example and renew Del Monte’s leasehold for the land in his jurisdiction. Waititu said legal battles over the matter would jeopardise the company.
Despite the warm welcome by the Kiambu county government there is still a tussle pitting the company and the Murang’a County leadership over the renewal of the lease. In suit papers filed in court in 2015, Mr Gkaliamoutsas indicated that political leaders from Murang’a had demanded over 3,000 acres of land from Del Monte as a condition to renew the lease that expires next year.
The leaders want the land along the Thika-Kenol highway surrendered for a planned town. In court, Del Monte said it had agreed to give up 500 acres and later increased this to 1,000 acres, but the county government had refused to renew the lease. This is captured in the wording of the statement by the Mt Kenya activists. The activists believe that from the outset, arbitrary renewal of long-term land leases are nothing but a continuation of historical land injustices that has denied the people of Kenya the right to benefit from their land. Instead, just like other natural resources, Kenyan land has benefited both local and international cartels only; never the people of Kenya.
The Activists argue that Del Monte has been concealing the true net worth of the land. The Del Monte property spanning from Blue Post Hotel to Kenol in Murang’a County is estimated to be worth, at least, KES 900 Billion and has been in the hands of Del Monte for the last 49 years. According to the activists, Del Monte together with Kakuzi, occupy, at least, half of Murang’a County and has been a disenfranchisement to Murang’a residents since the local people were unlawfully and illegally evicted by the colonialists decades ago.
They further argue that Del Monte and local cartels lied about the correct acreage. Geospatial surveys indicate that the property on Murang’a side could be more expansive than the recorded 21,000 acres. The activists state that they have conducted research which confirms that a more accurate acreage is over 28,000 acres, which can be confirmed in a new survey to be conducted by the National Land Commission and Murang’a County once the lease has expired.
Del Monte has been leasing all that land for a paltry KES 12,000 an acre. This simply beats logic because the adjacent land is sold at KES 4 million for an eighth of an acre. According to the activists not only have the people of Murang’a lost in real revenue, but so has the government of Kenya in actual taxes.
The activists further said that the renewal of Del Monte leases contravenes the Constitution and the enabling laws. The renewal of leases is governed by section 12 of the Land Act. The Leases cannot be automatically renewed if the owner is a foreign entity or if the National /County Governments have shown interest in the land. Our law is very clear that if there is public interest, the lease cannot be renewed; and public participation on whether the lease should be renewed or not is a constitutional pre-requisite. Supremacy of the people of Kenya, supersedes the interests of Del Monte.
The activists further claim that Del Monte has been involved in the fraudulent selling of land. Del Monte has abused the goodwill of Murang’a County, and the lease by charging and selling properties at commercial rates after securing their leases for paltry amounts. This needs to be addressed in a constitutional dialogue with Murang’a residents through Public Participation. Some of the properties sold by Del Monte include: Kimatus Estate, Ndoge Farm, several Quarries and Ananas Mall along Garissa Road. There has also been grabbing of Cattle Track Land estimated at 1,000 Acres as well as the Public Land next to Kihiu Mwiri.
Furthermore, the activists claim that Del Monte continues to grossly violate human rights and has repeatedly been cited for that wanton violation of human rights of its workers. In the 2002 report by the Kenya Human Rights Commission on foreign multi-nationals that continue to violate human rights in Kenya, Del Monte came top on the list. It is also in this regard that the activists that the find it of paramount importance for Murang’a people to be part of the decision making process that will determine whether Del Monte continuous to enjoy use of the land in question since they have proven over time not to be well meaning tenants.