By Linah Musangi
Mwingi, 3/3/2018: A section of Mwingi North residents inhabiting the limestone-rich Ngaaie location are pointing an accusing finger to Athi River Mining (ARM) over an alleged plot to swindle them out of their land.
The locals, 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,sold off their parcels of land and 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.
“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,” Mr. Kitheka emphasized.
65-year-old Kithome Malili 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 locals accused 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,” 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 money arising from sale of land. 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 locals and protect them from possible exploitation by the investor.
“We want our people to get fair compensation for their properties prior to actual mining of the limestone,” maintained Mutinda.
Mr. 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 licences 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.