Family wants Ongwae investigated over Kineni scheme land

In the 1990s, James Elvis Omariba Ongwae, currently serving his final term as governor of Kisii County, was a powerful man in the civil service. He was the head of the directorate of personnel management.

In the mid-90s, Ongwae’s kin – a Mr Makori Onduko, now deceased, was a man of his means and a director of Kenya Cooperative Creameries. But Onduko had problems which needed the intervention of powerful people like his nephew Ongwae because his properties were being sold left, right and centre over a loan running to hundreds of millions.

To motivate his cousin into action, he offered Ongwae a piece of land that he did not own at the famous Kineni Settlement Scheme – 10 acres, a property that is now the subject of a quest for justice by orphans, who lost their parents as a result of the scheme executed by Ongwae in 1995.

Then, Plot No. 50 of the scheme had been a subject of a court case whose verdict had come out. The orphans’ family had the ruling in their favor – that their father had legally purchased the land.

But Ongwae, who had given his cousin KSh3 million for the land and which saved his fortune, would hear none of that and used intimidation to take over the land.

“He could come with police officers and any time we attempted to stop him, we would be locked up,” says one of the orphans, now a father of two and who says they were sent to prison together with his two brothers over the matter.


He tells Kurunzi how Ongwae used his father to influence the then resident magistrate in Keroka to sentence them to six years in prison without due process “and I was a minor”. Ongwae’s father, now a senior citizen, was the Executive officer of the Keroka court.

“We were arrested and locked up at Keroka but they said we could not be arraigned in court because investigations were still going on,” he explains.

But at around 11.00am, he says, they were taken to the magistrate’s chambers forced to take a plea and sentenced despite denying the charges. They faced three counts of robbery with violence, malicious damage and causing grievous harm.

Robbery with violence is a capital offense and suspects cannot take plea and be charged within hours.

Their mother, who had survived the trauma of losing their property thus far after their father had died a few years earlier.

Seeing three of her children go to jail for a crime they had not committed was the final blow, she could take no more.

They appealed the decision and again, through his father’s influence, Ongwae got his way but they had some relief as they had their sentence halved to three years and they were out of Kisii prison courtesy of a presidential pardon.

And now, they want justice for the land – now Block 1/37 after resurveying of the scheme in 1998 and whose title the governor, who faces several allegations of corruption in his administration. Resurveying was done in 1998 when Ongwae was still at DPM and who used his influence to intimidate elders through the now defunct provincial administration.

“We want to know how the title was given to him off our title because we never sold it to him and no mutations were done.”


According to the family, Ongwae coerced elders during the survey to allow sub-division of their land – hiving off the 10 acres.

“We are calling on the DCI to investigate governor Ongwae over our land and many others he has been involved in,” another of the jailed trio tells Kurunzi.

“We want justice for our land, our undue incarceration and even for the blood of our parents that are crying in their graves.

“Court papers are ready and the governor will soon be served but before then we hope the DCI can follow up on this as they investigate the governor over other issues. Fraudulently acquired land like ours should be part of the investigations.”

The property in question, Kurunzi has independently confirmed, is not developed beyond tree and tea plantations and a few blocks of houses for workers.

The current value of the land is estimated to be KSh15 million.

Our investigation reveal that the governor May haven fraudulently acquired several parcels of land during his tenure at the DPM and later as a permanent secretary, including one in Bonchari constituency, where it is alleged a woman was killed after a deal to acquire the land turned sour when her sons refused to consent to her selling the property to Ongwae.


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