Empakasi Group Ranch: Conservation Land Stolen By Government

People living around the Naretunoi Community Conservancy peacefully coexist with wild animals and are active in wildlife and land conservation. Ironically, the Government of Kenya, which should be supporting their efforts, has been frustrating them and ignoring court orders. RoGGKenya spoke to their leaders, who shared their experiences.

Naretunoi Community Conservancy (NCC) is yet another victim of the Kenyan Government’s continuous disobedience of court orders and disregard for environmental conservation. The community has been working hard to protect the land which is open for wildlife to graze as they move in and out of Nairobi National Park.

This is the last wildlife dispersal area. If lost, it will impact wildlife populations in the park as well. On June 9, 2021, the community members woke up to an unexpected turn of events.

The Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) had erected tents to supervise fencing of a piece of land, which according to the Maasai community, was illegally acquired. Before the fencing, the land was used for grazing sheep and goats who usually mingle with wildlife that walk in and out of Nairobi National Park (NNP).

This action came just a few days before the hearing of a court case in which the community had asked the government to stop any activity on the land.

The Conservancy is within the Empakasi Group Ranch, which is on the unfenced southern side of Nairobi National Park (NNP).

But the struggle between the government and the Maasai community over this land has existed for decades.

According to Rev. (Rtd) Jonathan Lilah, who is the chairman of Naretunoi Community Conservancy, the ranch was around 10,000 acres in the 1970s. That is when the government started to force the community to subdivide and use it for sheep and goat grazing. This proposal was completely rejected by the community.

Illegal Sub-Division 

An Eland and zebras grazing at Empakasi Group Ranch. Picture: Gabriel Grimsditch

In 1981, soon after the late former president, Daniel Arap Moi assumed power, he learnt of all these controversies and sent the Minister of States by then, the late Godfrey Gitahi Kariuki to find out what was happening and intervene. Kariuki, accompanied by other government officers visited the ranch and a lot of discussions took place, Lilah recalled.

“Eventually the government decided to end the fight and promised to give Maasai’s 6000 acres out of the 10,000 acres. But they requested us to give them 2912 acres for the sheep and goat project,” said the chair of NCC.

Lilah added that Maasai elders told Kariuki that, out of respect for the former president, they would allow the government to use the 2912 acres. However, should the project fail, the land was to be handed back to the community. Kariuki agreed with the terms and promised to pass the information to the former president.

According to existing records at the Ministry of Lands, the sub-division started in 1981.That is also when the Sheep and Goat Project started.

The project was funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as part of a food security initiative for the country.

“In 1996, we realized that the project had failed, the government had made four bomas (community enclosures)  within the 3000 acres. It then proceeded to issue title deeds to three of the four bomas, leaving us with only one,” said the reverend.

Politicians Rewarded With Land

Part of the land allocated for Sheep and Goat Project in Empakasi Group Ranch. Picture: Gabriel Grimsditch

The same year, the Ministry of Lands wrote a letter to the Commissioner of Lands, telling him that since the project was no longer viable, they were reverting the land back to the Commissioner of Land so that  he can do whatever  he wants with it.

“However, with the letter, they attached a list of 99 officers from the Ministry of Agriculture who were to be considered by giving them something small. These officers were given portions of acres. One acre, a quarter of an acre, three, four acres etc,” said the reverend.

According to the reverend, senior officers got up to 20 acres. “Along the way, a group of five politicians from Kajiado, sitting Members of Parliament including the chairman of Olkejuado County Council, the late Daniel Ole Muya, went to the former president and requested for some pieces of land,” said Rev. Lilah.

Each of them was allocated 50 acres. So, out of the 2912 acres of land meant for the project, 250 acres were registered under the Maasai Impex Company.  According to Rev. Lilah these transactions were rushed with little involvement of the community.

“No sooner had they got the land than they sold it to Mavoko Waste and Sewer Company that proceeded to sell it to Kenyatta National Hospital Afya SACCO,” said Rev. Lilah.

Afya SACCO is a Co-operative Savings and Credit Society which draws its members from medical professionals in Kenya.

Extra Judicial Killing ?

Afya SACCO representatives visited the land in 2001 with the intention of subdividing it. The Maasai community fought them. In the process, someone was shot dead by the police. No other developer could set foot on the land because the community vowed to protect it.

In 2018, the Maasai community took a petition to parliament requesting an intervention to resolve the matter. The Committee on Land visited the site, surveyed it, and went around interviewing people. They wrote a report with recommendations to the government.

One of the recommendations was that since the project, for which the land was given, was no longer viable, the government should look into ways of reverting the land back to the community.

The Committee also recommended that the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) visit the site to observe how the land was abused. The Committee members were also to investigate how other people got their title deeds.

According to a Maasai community elder, who did not want to be mentioned because he is a civil servant, the Maasai have been waiting for the government to act on the report ever since.

Report Gathering Dust 

“As usual, no action was taken about the report. We have had real issues since 2020. We’ve gathered information that the government was planning to give the same land to the Kenya Wildlife Services (KWS) to be part of the Nairobi National Park,” said the elder.

He added that the KWS had not asked for that land, yet it was offered to them. “Around the same time, we heard that the Kenya Meat Commission (KMC) was looking for the same land.”

Reliable sources reveal that in 2016, there was a cabinet memo in which KMC sought to be allocated some 500 acres, which was approved. Immediately after the 2017 elections, the 500 acres changed to 1000 acres.

“Even before they had finished transferring this land to KMC, we heard through the media that the government was planning to privatize KMC. So, we asked the government if there is any connection between the sale of KMC and the acquisition of the land. No one has answered us yet” said Rev. Lilah.

On October 3, 2019, Empakasi Group Ranch sued seven government bodies. Ministry of Land, National Land Commission, National Treasury, the Attorney General, Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, Ministry of Agriculture, KWS, and Afya SACCO.

The group sought orders stopping the government bodies from surveying, developing or producing any title on behalf of the government or anybody else until the case is heard and determined.

President Ignoring Court Orders 

The case was heard on October 29, 2020, and the court ordered the Ministry of Land not to issue any title deeds for the 2,000 acres to KWS. In a rather unfortunate turn of events, and against the court order, President Uhuru Kenyatta issued the title deed for the 2,000 acres to KWS.

“We wondered why the government was not following the court orders. So, we went back to court to inform them about these new developments, and sued the government for contempt of court,” said Rev. Lilah.

Ever since, there have been four court hearings on the matter. In sheer defiance, the government has failed to attend any of the hearings despite having been served by the group ranch’s lawyers throughout the case.

“They have refused to come to court. At the last hearing, our lawyers requested the court to allow them make their final submission, so that the court can make it’s final declaration on the contempt of court and on the main case where we asked the court to nullify these title deeds,” said Rev. Lilah.

The community want KMC and KDF to vacate their land and that they receive a single title deed under the group ranch.

The last hearing was on June 17, 2021, at the Lands and Environments Court in Machakos. The court allowed Empakasi Group Ranch to make a fresh application incorporating KMC and KDF for occupying and fencing the land illegally. The hearing of this case is slated for October 1, 2021. 

What journalists should do; 

1.Find out the state of other dispersal lands.

2.Follow up on the existing court cases regarding the ranch and if the government will obey them.

3.Document the conservation work taking place at the ranch.

4.Talk to the residents of Empakasi Group Ranch to find out how they are affected by the constant tension between them and the government.


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  1. Yes Iif any political party registers any Kenyan without his or her consent,then the party sued

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