In one end of the coastal region, Mombasa Cement Company is getting praises thanks to the philanthropy by its owner Hasmukh Patel popularly known as Asu. Most residents of Mombasa have long enjoyed his food program, settling of hospital bills and sorting out their many problems.
In the neighboring county of Kilifi, the song is a bit different. The cement maker has been accused by locals of grabbing their ancestral land at Vipingo area. Following a lengthened line of accusations and protests, MPs moved in to investigate the matter.
Residents are accusing the businessman of grabbing a piece of the 803-acre piece of land from them, they’re claiming he’s holding a fake title deed in claiming the ownership of contested plot No 663/IV/MN which they say is rightfully theirs.
Hasu has been battling for this piece of land for long.
Local politicians and some residents claim the cement firm used an illegal process to acquire the disputed prime parcels of land at Vipingo area and should therefore be surrendered to the community.
A parliamentary committee sided with the argument that the land was acquired illegally and recommended the nullification of its titles against a finding by the National Land Commission which gave the process used to acquire the lands from Vipingo Estate Limited in 2005 at a cost of Sh 68 million, a clean bill of health.
Hasu is said to have been in good books with the then NLC chairman Swazuri giving him an upper hand in acquisition.
In a bid to stop repossession that has been pushed for by local leaders, Hasu in a case at the High Court in Mombasa, the cement manufacturer through its managing director Hasmukh Patel argues that under the national land commission Act and the constitution, a committee of parliament has no jurisdiction to investigate or overturn a decision on a matter that is the function of a commission.
The firm also wants the state stopped from implementing the committee’s report that termed the process illegal as NLC had also dispensed with subsequent challenges to the acquisition and transfer after listening to all interested parties, including residents.
After the committee’s recommendation, the Lands ministry wrote to NLC calling for nullification of the title deeds and handing over the tittles to the county government.
Earlier this year, a section of Kilifi residents had threatened to sue the firm in a bid to reclaim their land.
According to the residents, Hasu allegedly grabbed 147 out of 803 acres of land which he later went on to put up a perimeter wall around denying the residents access to the land and development of their property.
In a demand letter written to the firm dated January 9 2023, Sheria na Haki Human Rights Institute executive director Etore Akaran confirmed that the land belonged to the five residents who acquired it legally.
In the same letter Etore said the businessman has no right or legal justification to utilise the land and accused him of trespassing, forceful detention and encroachment, knowing well the land belonged to the aforementioned residents.
Etore, however, demanded that Mombasa Cement Ltd through Hasu removes the perimeter wall and gives the vacated possession to the aggrieved residents, or else they proceed with the matter to court.
“Our instructions are hereby to demand, which we hereby do, that you immediately remove that perimeter wall which you constructed on their 147 acres of plots out of 803 acres from the piece of land and you immediately give them a vacate possession to the same,” he added
In response to Sheria na Haki Human Rights’s letter, Mombasa Cement Ltd lawyer pleaded with the residents to hold for at least 21days as they wait for further instructions from Hasu who was said to be using his lawyers to buy time as he plots his next move
The lawyer’s letter dated January 13 2023 and signed by Cyprian Onyony failed to admit liability in any form to the demands raised by the residents.
The organization has also accused him of orchestrating land grabbing problems across Mombasa and Kilifi where he operates his cement manufacturing business.
Last year, a section of Mombasa residents held demos in the city accusing him of grabbing a public land.
Still on the Kilifi land, local residents invaded the land in April 2023, machete-wielding youths numbering about 500 invaded the expansive Vipingo Sisal farm along the Mombasa-Malindi Highway claiming ancestral ownership of the land.
They annexed a section of the farm and put up houses.
The intruders produced copies of title deeds which they alleged show the land that was leased by Vipingo Sisal Estate belonged to their forefathers. According to them, the lease had expired.
Mr Mrima Wanyepe who claimed to be the chairman of the landless in the area said the 800-acre disputed land was supposed to be distributed at the beginning of this year.
”Vipingo Sisal Estate lease expired and we applied to have our ancestral land reverted back, we obtained the title deed for 800 acres of the land from the Ministry of Lands which was supposed to divide it for us,” he said.
A copy of the certificate of title deed shows the document was issued on December 13 last year.
The county government of Kilifi was supposed to facilitate the adjudication and subdivision of the 800 acres for the squatters but it has been postponing the exercise.
There have been endless meetings between Centum, Mombasa Cement, locals and the county government to solve the row with the locals standing their ground that the land is theirs. Centum claims ownership of the land through subsidiary Vipingo Development Ltd.
Some 500,000 people have for years lived as squatters around the Vipingo Sisal plantation. The villagers are also in court seeking an extra 3,900 acres of the sisal plantation.
It’s in the backdrop of the endless cycle of fights that MPs have moved in to break the ice.
The National Assembly Committee on Lands has commenced investigations to resolve disputes over more than 12,000 acres piece of land in Vipingo, Kilifi County, in contention between local community and investors.
The Committee chaired by North Mugirango Member of Parliament Joash Nyamoko, is set to establish the authenticity of the ideal owners of the piece of land that has been the center of dispute between the locals and Centum Investment Company (who sold it to Mombasa Cement) who both presented their title deeds to claim ownership.
Kilifi County Governor Gideon Mung’aro supported the move saying that the residents have the right to enjoy the benefits of the land if their tittle deeds will authenticated.
Munga’ro urged the committee to investigate the Public lands that have reportedly been grabbed illegally by individuals.
“It is time we know where the lands that were returned to the government disappeared to. Were they returned to the public and if so is there any evidence that they were issued back?” Mungaro said.
Mung’aro added that the lands whose leases had already expired should also be investigated in order to end conflicts between government and members of the community.
In the recent past, Mombasa Cement has wedged a war against the Mombasa County accusing them of giving an order to stop them from offering philanthropic services to the residents.
According to sources privy to the matter, the heightened media campaign is strategic to buy him sympathy as the MPs report on Kilifi land would bring a picture of his side that’s unknown to the public. Will the committee report finally put an end to the matter and make peace with the squatters? Time will tell.