Limestone-rich Ngaaie residents accuse cement firm of fraudulent land acquisition

A section of Mwingi North residents owning part of the limestone-rich land in Ngaaie location are crying for justice over alleged plot by Athi River Mining (ARM) to swindle them out of their land.

The residents, who refused to sell off their parcels of land to the cement-manufacturing firm, now claim ARM is planning to take over their property ahead of imminent extraction of the mineral.

ARM has been prospecting limestone in the area since 2009, but has been keen on buying the limestone-endowed land directly from the residents instead of leasing it.

But the firm’s bid to relocate over 250 households sitting on the estimated 3,500-acre limestone-rich area, including Ngaaie hill, has not been a walk in the park.

Though most families sitting on the huge limestone deposits have agreed to sell off their parcels of land, and have even received subsequent compensation, some 60 families have turned ARM’s offer down and vowed to stay put until fair compensation is made.

We feel that demarcation of our land, which ARM commissioned, was fraudulent and the Sh.150, 000 per acre terms are way too low. That’s why we refused to sell our land, Josphat Kitheka, a resident, told journalists on Friday.

It should be noted that we are not in any way opposing the planned mining of limestone in this area but all we want is reasonable compensation for our mineral-rich land, Kitheka emphasized.

Kithome Malili, 65, claims that ARM has been playing dirty tricks on them in a bid to take over their land after failed negotiations.

He alleged that the company played him against his son after he refused to sell off his farm, transferred his ownership to the son and paid him behind his back.

I, technically have no land because the same was fraudulently transferred to my treacherous son whom ARM paid. I pray the government to intervene so that we can get justice, laments Mzee Malili.

Moreover, the residents are accusing ARM of enticing the defiant land owners with money wired to their bank accounts without their consent or knowledge.

Kyalo Kyamati said his bank manager called to inform him that ARM had deposited Sh.100, 000 into his account.

I was shocked because I had neither negotiated nor entered into any land-sale agreement with ARM. I have never touched their money because I know it’s a trap, he said.

Another resident, Jackline Mutinda, lamented that women were receiving a raw deal in the multi-billion limestone mining project.

Women are hardly benefitting from this project as men squander all the monies arising from sale of land to ARM. Elderly widows have not been spared either as their sons have been secretly selling family land to the cement firm, she explained.

Kitui-based human rights activist Isaac Mutinda, urged the county and national governments, as well as human rights advocacy groups to come to the aid of the aggrieved residents and protect them from possible exploitation by the investor.

We want a ‘willing seller, willing buyer’ situation so that these people can get fair compensation for their properties prior to actual mining of the limestone, maintained Mutinda.

Mutinda is also the coordinator of Kituo Cha Sheria’s Kitui Community Justice Centre.

In 2015, Kitui County Government threatened to revoke ARM’s prospecting licenses over alleged flouting of guidelines through direct negotiation of land prices with the local community and without involving the administration.

The administration maintained that Athi River Mining will not be allowed to buy the limestone-rich land directly from residents but lease it.

Efforts to reach ARM management for comment bore no fruits.

Source: Kenya News Agency