Until he strode to power on a URP ticket, many had not heard of Samuel Ole Tunai, save for those who worked in the secretive Kenya’s national intelligence service, where he was a director for many years.
But those who knew Tunai also knew some little matter which dates back to the year 2003, when Tunai, and his brother, Kuya Kijabe Ole Tunai, laid claim to swathes of land – 26, 100 hectares in total – which effectively disinherited the Siria Maasai of their ancestral land.
During their takeover of the land in the Mara, hell broke loose after a section of the Siria Maasai protested. In the pandemonium, police fired at the charged crowd and killed Kipas Kiton, a moran from the Ilkarekeshe Group Trust. Nobody was prosecuted over Kitonâ€™s killing, reports Mavulture.
More drama was yet to follow.
Last year, the Ilkarekeshe Group Trust placed an advertisement in the media, claiming ownership of the land. The irresistible tract of land is endowed with a variety of game. It houses one of Kenyanâ€™s top luxury camps, Kichwa Tempo and Bateleur Camp owned by Conservation Cooperation Africa (South Africa), as well as Skyship Ballooning, a company linked to the First Family.
Following placement of the contentious advertisement, Francis ole Rramet and Lekishon ole Morinte were arrested and charged with forging a title deed.
On July 11, 2012, four days after the arrest, a group comprising more than 100 members of Siria Maasai stormed Ardhi House. They demanded to be addressed by then minister of Lands and Settlement, James Orengo, complaining that their constitutional rights had been violated. It would seem that they had been disinherited by the Tunai brothers.
According to history records, the land was degazetted from the Masai Mara National Reserve in 1976 after a delegation of Siria Maasai elders petitioned President Jomo Kenyatta to be allowed access to the Mara River to water their animals during drought seasons.
Kenyatta obliged and directed then Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Lands, Mathew Ogutu, to allocate a 10km stretch of land to the Siria community, which would hold the land in trust.
Through a letter by Ogutu, written in 1976, the land was transferred to Siria. The plan was for the land to be subdivided among Siria members in 1992, but this intent failed after the Ministry of Land revoked the arrangement in unclear circumstances.
It would later emerge that the governor and his brother registered a company by the name of Oloololo Game Ranch Ltd and reportedly used their connections in Government to obtain title to the land. Effectively, Tunai is a major stakeholder in the world-famous Masai Mara tourist circuit.
The ownership wrangles surrounding the potentially lucrative stretch of land set the stage for unending confrontations between the Oloololo Game Ranch and Ilkarekeshe Group. The latter claims to have been issued with a title deed on December 15, 2011, by Sam Ongeri, then Minister for Lands and Settlement. The contested land comprises three group ranches (Kimindet, Oloirien and Kiringani) which border the famous Masai Mara Triangle.
By staging a protest at Ardhi House, the residents had hoped they would draw the attention of James Orengo, perhaps even prevail upon him to overturn the acquisition of their land byÂ the Tunai brothers. During the stormy meeting, the community pitched tent outside Oloololo Gate, but the police dismantled it before Orengo arrived. There were allegations that the armed police offers were ferried by some 10 Toyota Land Cruisers owned by the two wealthy brothers.
In his address, Orengo said he had received phone calls and text messages from influential persons in the Government, warning him not to meddle with Oloololo matters. The minister is reported to have said he had no powers to cancel the deed given to Oloololo Ranch Company. He later addressed another meeting attended by the chairman of the defunct Transmara County Council, some councillors, and the Oloololo company chairman Kuya Ole Kijabe.
Intriguingly, this time Orengo alleged that the title deed held by Ilkarekeshe Group Trust was fake. In response, Ole Kijabe claimed that Orengo at one time acted as the Oloololo company lawyer.
All that is now water under the bridge. Orengo no longer holds the Lands docket. And Tunai, the former intelligence director, now serves as a director at Oloololo Ranch Company, besides doubling as the spanking new Governor of Narok. His brother, Ole Kijabe, is an elected member of the same county assembly. This formidable mix of wealth and politics places the brothers in quite a powerful position indeed.
Notwithstanding Tunaiâ€™s clout, his past continues to haunt him. Already, a civil society group, Trusted Society of Human Rights Alliance, has vowed to kick him out. The lobby is looking to collect some 150,000 signatures with the aim of submitting a motion to impeach the governor over allegations of corruption and nepotism.
The groupâ€™s quite persuasive conviction is that Tunaiâ€™s discharge of duties as a county governor will be impeded by a conflict of interest: his companyÂ has been collecting revenue and managing the Mara Triangleâ€”which is part of the county he leads! Consider the strong words of lobby Chairman Elijah Sikona: â€œThis creates a conflict of interest,â€ he stated. â€œHe (Tunai) is the governor and a key player in the collection of revenue from the conservancy.â€
Expectedly, Tunai has rejected the claims, saying there is no conflict of interest. He challenged his critics to use court procedures and seek his recall.
Recently, Equity Bankâ€™s contract to collect revenue at the Maasai Mara was cancelled, and the Narok County government arrogated itself the responsibility of collecting fees at this national reserveâ€”one of the most lucrative and most visited in the country. Over the last several months, Narok has been on a losing streak.
The move, apparently, was calculated at boosting revenue in the national reserve, although a section of critics read mischief in the manner Equity was ejected. They see it as a move to consolidate revenue collection by Tunai, who is planning to use Kapsâ€”which is owned by Oloololo Ranch Company. Kaps has been collecting gate fees at the Mara Triangle.
Equity Bank was awarded the contract two years ago and was supposed to collect revenue for the next 10 years, earning a seven percent commission on a revenue base of Sh1.5 billion. This meant that Equity was guaranteed to earn Sh105 million annually. Equity has since gone to court to contest cancellation of the contract.
But today’s demo, which has seen an upsurge in anti-URP sentiments in Maasailand (Tunai was elected on a URP ticket) was allegedly due to the governor’s favouritism in dishing out county jobs as well as the increased cost of living due to high taxation imposed by the county government.
The protest that has been planned for next Monday has sent jitters to the county government who have not issued a word yet.Â The protesters claim other political issues will be expressed during the day of protest.Â Sources intimate that the latest Narok Ambulances hire from Red Cross was the reason behind the planned demo.