Mithiini, where squatters feel safer in bushes than houses - Beaking Kenya News

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Wednesday, 20 July 2022

Mithiini, where squatters feel safer in bushes than houses

 

The bushes leading to her home are thick and thorny, laden with snakes and insects.

But these bushes are far safer than her one-bedroomed semi-permanent house, fenced with thorny Kay apple tree and a wooden gate.

Sarah Kanini, a squatter in Mithiini land in Maragwa, Murang’a County said many nights, she sleeps better in the bushes compared to her house.

“When the society drops threat notes in the area, as a squatter, you are safer hiding in the bushes. They ruthlessly burn down houses, uproot plants and attack the squatters and no action is taken,” said Kanini.

The ‘society’ is the only identification Mithiini squatters use to refer to their oppressors who claim to be the legitimate owners of Mithiini land.

Though many are known individually, the squatters told the Star in an interview that the people operate under an umbrella group called the society.

Sarah Kanini during an interview with The Star at Mithiini in Murang'a of their attacks on mAY 30, 2022
Interview with Star Sarah Kanini during an interview with The Star at Mithiini in Murang'a of their attacks on mAY 30, 2022
Image: CHARLENE MALWA

The mother moved to the land in 1963, when the land was bare. Growing up, she was always scared of being indoors.

“Many a time, a group of people would just stream into the house, beat everyone up and if there was food cooking, they would kick it, and destroy anything they found in the house,” she recalled.

“You’d never know when they would could come back but before they left, they always promised to return and do worse,” she added.

Her mother, being the leader of the squatters, was always targeted and she would often spend nights in the bushes, on the rocks near a river or in the nearby village.

Kanini said her mother always reported the incidents to the authorities and that at one point, she succeeded in taking one case to court.

“She would send us to sell chicken so she could get the fare to attend court. I was just a child and did not understand what the court cases were about, but I knew that the land was part of it,” she explained.

Soon, Kanini and her siblings dropped out of school as their mother was always away from home, she was too scared to let them leave too early to go to school which was far from their home.

Trouble calmed down when her mother started ailing in the 1990s. Suddenly, there were no attackers or anyone harassing them.

Things suddenly took another turn when her mother died in December 2021.

“I went to the assistant chief to inform her of my mother’s demise so we can take her to the morgue. He gave it to us and asked us to come later for a burial permit,” she said.

During the funeral arrangements, Kanini said only squatters were present and there were silent talks that my mother would not be buried at our home because she did not have title deed.

“Rumours from the grapevine were confirmed when the assistant chief declined to give me a burial certificate and instead, issued me a court application seeking to halt the burial by the apparent legitimate owner of the land,” she said.

Kanini said a day before the planned burial date, the chief warned her not to sink a grave as the land was not theirs and that she was to appear in court in two days.

“People were already gathered, food prepared and even the grave dug. We were only waiting for the body,” she said.

Kanini sought help from the squatter officials who went to the District Officer in Kigumo who discovered that there was foul-play and directed the chief to issue the family with a burial permit.

“We got the burial permit at 5pm and laid my mother to rest that night. We did not want to take any chances,” she said.

Two weeks later, Kanini received another summon asking her to appear in court seeking to exhume my mother’s body, a war the mother of four is still fighting.

Next to Kanini’s home is James Mungai, 70 who had been under witness protection for months following threats against his life.

Mungai, a human rights defender working on Mithiini land rights, said he had been badly hurt as he was defending his wife Pricilla who was attacked at their farm.

Pricilla said she was at the farm with her two grandchildren harvesting beans in July last year when suddenly, some men appeared and ordered her to leave the farm.

“When I asked why, they attacked me. I was carrying one of my grandchildren on my back, when one hit me, I fell down knocking the other grandchild,” Pricilla explained.

Since she could not turn, for fear of hurting the child on her back, Pricilla said she resorted to screaming as her attackers continue kicking her.

Her screams attracted Mungai who was tending to the goats nearby, he rushed to his wife’s rescue but was brutally beaten by the three attackers known to them.

Despite making reports to the police, and getting P3 forms, action is yet to be taken while the threats continue to flow. This prompted Mungai to seek protection from Defenders Coalition.

Mungai said his family started receiving even more threats and attacks after he made the report. Before Defender’s Coalition took him in for a witness protection program, threat notes asking the squatters to vacate Mithiini land in seven days of face death had been distributed in the area by unknown people.

“We woke up to notices thrown all over asking us to leave Mithiini within seven days or be killed,” said Mungai.

The 70-year-old recounted how he grew fearful after one woman whom he was defending was burnt alive in her house in December 2021.

“The old woman’s body was discovered, tied to her bed and burnt beyond recognition,” he said.

“Her basket was still outside the house as her daughter said she was preparing to leave for the market where she sells tomatoes when her attackers found her,” he continued.

Defender's Coalition director Kamau Ngugi said Mithiini, which is about 7000 acres, was a settled area, and some of the residents there actually had their parents living in parts of the land even before independence.

Nevertheless, he said, white settlers took possession and ownership of several chucks of land in the area which they occupied well after the independence years.

Ngugi said one of the white settlers, Tom Frazier lived in the area until about 1976 when he left.

"The reversion of the land after he left remains truly unclear, but many families were actually settled on the very land," he said.

He added, "Both formerly white settled areas and community settled areas in Mithiini have now been lost to unclear private owners who continue to subjugate and throw out genuine squatters who should be gazetted as the true owners of the land area".

For over 30 years, the families living in Mithiini remained squatters and were living in fears of squabbles and unending tensions.

Similar grievances and requests for interventions have been filed with non-government agencies including the Kenya Human Rights Commission (KHRC).

In 2020, the Environment and Land Court at Murang’a dismissed a a petition brought before it by at least 2,200 residents of Mithiini to reclaim the land on a technicality. The Court advised the petitioners to show proper evidence to back their claims.

At the same time, Mithiini residents have filed varying reports with Makuyu Police Station, among others, and even the Independent Policing Oversight Authority (IPOA) on related complaints of police abuses touching on forced evictions and harassments of the residents.   BY THE STAR

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