Cabinet Secretary Kiraiko Tobiko through a Gazette notice dated July 25, 2021, published the gazettement of the Chetambe hills as a government forest land in Webuye East, Bungoma County thus eliciting sharp reactions from the community.
The Chetambe hills which bear a great historical significance to the western region is home to the roots and culture of the Tachoni people.
The fort was a masterpiece of the great ruler of the Tachoni and Bukusu communities also known as Chetambe Yifile in the 19th century. This was the last station to the total takeover of the Bukusu land by the ruling colonial masters.
“This fort had houses for the families and a cattle kraal, in the middle of the fort was a sacred tree also known as the Omutoto. It was regarded as holy and this is where the elders paid their respects and offered animal sacrifices to the gods,” National Chairman of Tachoni clan said.
While government insists that it is a forest area, most residents hold that it was their ancestral land subdivided by their parents.
However, a retired area Assistant Chief, Stephen Murumba of Mihuu location told K24 Digital that the government compensated people between 1973 and 1975.
He said at the time the government compensated people about Ksh5000 and ksh30,000 in order to give way.
“Some parts of the said land are government land especially most parts of Mihuu Ward but in Muji no one was compensated,” he said.
Murumba further explained that those who moved out after the compensation started coming back slowly and that others have since been selling the same land to different people.
Area MCA Martin Wanyonyi however says that if the government will use the said land and evict people, then Webuye East as a constituency will be greatly affected and can be deregistered as a constituency.
“The land in question is over1000 acres cutting across almost the entire Webuye town and its environs,” he said.
Wanyonyi said before the gazettement, the Cabinet Secretary could have carried a public participation exercise.
“These people have been living in this land from time immemorial and the government has been aware of the same,” he wondered.
He wondered how government had invested millions in construction of public amenities like Panpaper factory, schools, the National Cereals Board offices and government offices only to later gazette it as a forest area.
Also affected include the Webuye Falls which is a key tourist attraction site that has attracted several high-end hotels.
Tachoni Council of Elders chairperson Patrick Sitati also faulted the government’s failure to fulfil its promises during the compensation era in the 1970s.
“Yes, we agree that the compensation scheme started between 1970 and 1975 but not all were compensated,” he said.
He further said so many people were promised to be resettled in Trans Nzoia County which has never been done.
A former Mayor Joab Macheso admits that all the land in question was formerly their private land but the government bought the land in the 1970s. “I was born here and the truth is many people were compensated,” he said.
K24 Digital is in possession of documents from former administrators showing the names and amounts of those compensated by government in the 1970s.
It is not however clear how those compensated started trooping back or selling the said acres of land with government’s approval.
Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa has also vowed to rally residents to resist the eviction move saying the area has a historical attachment to the Bukusu and Tachoni communities.
“Our people died resisting colonial rules and fighting for independence in the famous Chetambe war. We will rally them to resist in equal measures,” Barasa said.