Judicial history has been written in an Eldoret court where two families of peasant farmers were awarded Sh8 billion in landmark ruling. It was joy and jubilation for members of two families in Uasin Gishu county, who had been waiting for justice for almost 30 years after their land was forcibly acquired by two State corporations for construction of a container inland depot.
The High Court in Eldoret found the compulsory acquisition of more than 1,000 acres owned separately by the families was unjust and awarded them Sh8 billion compensation, which could be the biggest such award in Kenya’s judicial history on land disputes.
The court ordered Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) and Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) to pay the family of the late Thomas Kipkogei Rator—represented by Nathan Koech and Zacharia Kosgei—Sh3.7 billion for the illegal take-over of 546-acre land. The judge also granted Sh4.1 billion to Ezekiel Kiprop and Ernest Kibet on behalf of the family of the late William Kimngeny Leting for illegal annexation of 604-acre land.
In his ruling, dated April 25, Justice Antony Ombwayo also awarded each of the family Sh500,000 in mesne profits (amount they could have earned while dispute raged). Also enjoined as respondents in the suit were the Commissioner of Lands (now National Land Commission), the Director of Survey and the Lands ministry.
Justice Ombwayo of the Environment and Land Division of the High Court found that the two state agencies acquired the land where they constructed the multi-million shilling depot, denying the families their rightful inheritance.
The judge further ordered Nathaniel Lagat, the previous co-owner of the land, the National Land Commission, Lands ministry and the Director of Survey to also participate in paying the compensation.
The land in question is located on the outskirts of Eldoret town off the Eldoret-Uganda highway and it has several units occupied by different individuals which, according to the court, were not authorised by the owners. The judge issued the compensation based on section 75 of the old Constitution and Article 40 of the current Constitution.
Lawyer Javan Kipnyekwei, who represented the two families, argued that they never received any compensation after their land was compulsorily acquired by the two State agencies. The two families had also named retired President Daniel Moi and former MP, the late Stanley Metto, as some of the illegal beneficiaries of the land.
The families argued that they have lived in agony since the former Kanu regime acquired the land without compensating them. They had filed a suit in 1988 demanding compensation but nothing was offered to them. Kipnyekwei argued that the two families and three other co-owners purchased 3,236 acres of land in 1977 but part of it was later illegally subdivided without their consent and allocated to the two parastatals.
He said the families suffered losses after deregistration of the land which was later irregularly changed to suit urban residential estates, commercial, industrial zones and public utilities without consent and compensation as required by law.
However, the defence team led by Stephen Kiambi, had dismissed the suit arguing that the demand for compensation advanced by the two families was an afterthought after the land was acquired more than 30 years ago.
Petition not defeated On her part, Uasin Gishu county Land Registrar Dorothy Leting claimed KPA paid Sh1,498,490 through the then District Commissioner’s office to the land owners. But the court dismissed claims that the two families were time-barred in filling the claims, citing the circumstances and nature of then prevailing circumstances since it involved powerful forces in the erstwhile Kanu regime.
“It is my view that bearing the nature of the claim and the period of delay, exactly 30 years, and circumstances surrounding the petition and the persons alleged to have been behind the process and the fact that there is no clear provision of the period of time for commencing such petitions, the petition is not defeated,” ruled the judge.
“Moreover, this court takes judicial notice that the General Election of 2002 brought to this country change of regime that led to a new wave of litigation in respect of violation of human rights. Those who feared victimisation woke up to a new era where they could petition for their rights without fear.” Justice Ombwayo gave dissatisfied parties 30 days to appeal the landmark ruling. w