KNA Taita-Taveta County government has directed the group ranches’ management boards in the region to open up their registers for admission of new members as part of compliance with the Community Land Act.
Speaking in Mwatate, Governor Granton Samboja stated that the county government would use its legal and administrative authority to ensure group ranches admit new members who have been locked out from joining for ages.
The governor disclosed that the Act had directed ranches to allow residents with interest in the group ranches to register as members.
“The ranches must accept new members. The trend where few members own over 100,000 acres of community land while deserving residents are locked out of their ancestral land will stop. The ranches will comply with law,” he said. He said that five ranches have shown remarkable progress in complying with the new law and will get their certification and related documents within a fortnight.
Local residents who have been seeking to be members of the group ranches view the governor’s remarks as an endorsement of their protracted fight against committees that manage the affairs of the ranch.
Taita Taveta County is home to 30 ranches that occupy over 900,000 acres. This includes government-owned ranches, private ranches and group ranches.
Group ranches in the region cover 127,540 acres with a membership of 8,810 people out of which 800 are women.
Mr Hajji Mwakio, a chair of Coast Land’s right lobby group, said that group ranches will be compelled to take in more members because the Act stated so.
He noted that the only condition is for the member to have interest in the activities of the ranch and be an adult.
“The Act protects the poor and the weak in the community. It enables them to become members of ranches and enjoy the benefits that accrue from membership,” he said.
While efforts are underway to streamline the activities of group ranches, there have been reports of mismanagement and challenges of unproductivity. There have also been accusations that some committee members have been reluctant to admit new members.
Mr Patric Mjani, a farmer in Vindo area in Voi, is blunt. He says group ranches have over the years become exclusive clubs that are managed by a few officials who refuse to allow new members to join.
This refusal, he says, is due to the financial benefits the officials were receiving. “Some ranches are gold mines. They get revenue from leasing to herders and money from carbon credit. New membership means low income for the already existing members,” he said.
Membership for group ranches is by customary rights and is sustained by perpetual succession. This means a son will become a member because the father was a member.
One of the biggest challenges confronting ranches is the question of membership that is not locally grounded. In Kasighau area in Voi sub-county, residents claim that four ranches in the location had left them out. There has been a push by leaders to compel the management to register some residents as members. The location has Kasighau Ranch, Mbale, Wushumbu and Bura ranch.
Area Member of County Assembly Abraham Juma said it’s unfair to have several ranches in the area whose membership comes from elsewhere.
“This is our ancestral land yet the members of these ranches are not from around. We have been calling for inclusion of local residents in the membership register of the ranches,” he said.
Mr Bon’gosa Mcharo, the chair of Taita-Taveta Wildlife Conservancies Association that comprises over 27 ranches, said dynamics on membership for ranches were subject to existing laws.
He said that some ranches had registered as companies and were subject to companies’ Act. “All operations in the ranches are regulated by law. The issues of membership too will be subject to the existing laws governing management of group ranches,” he said.