Members of the Samburu community who were living on a disputed land previously owned by retired President Daniel Moi have been slapped with a Sh11.8 million invoice by a Nairobi-based law firm.
Kaplan and Stratton Advocates demanded the money after an eight-year court battle in a case in which 248 members of the community sued the retired President for transferring 17,105 acres of their ancestral land in Laikipia North to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
They accused Mr Moi of transferring the Eland Downs, also known as Kabarak Farm, to the KWS at a cost of Sh400 million in 2011 and later to the Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF) without considering what would happen to them.
However, the Land and Environment Court in Nyeri County dismissed the case with costs to the community.
According to documents served to the community’s lawyer, Suyianka Lempaa, Kaplan and Stratton made 290 appearances in court on behalf of AWF, which was listed as the first defendant in the case.
Mr Lempaa protested against the legal fee charges, saying AWF should be considerate and waive it.
He feared that the other parties in the case will make similar demands and the community will be unable to pay.
The second and third defendants in the case were the retired President and the KWS, respectively, while Kituo Cha Sheria and Yash Pal Ghai were enjoined as interested parties in the suit.
Mr Moi was represented in the case by lawyer Juma Kiplenge while lawyer Ambonya Wachira represented KWS.
Kaplan and Stratton Advocates made the first appearance in court on October 19, 2009 up to February 17, 2017 when the case was closed and scheduled for judgment.
The law firm had all through defended the Washington-based AWF, arguing that the land was acquired legally for conservation of wild animals.
The case came to the limelight after the Land and Environment Court ordered the community to hire choppers to transport judicial officers and lawyers involved in the case for a site visit.
Justice Lucy Waithaka on March 10, 2016 directed the community to meet all other logistical needs to facilitate the court’s visit after hearing that the land could only be accessed through air travel.
The community wanted the land reverted to them on doctrine of adverse possession, whereby someone who has lived continuously on a piece of land for more than 12 years can gain ownership.
They also based it on the land rights under the Anglo-Maasai Agreement. The community said their forefathers were forced by the British to sign agreements allowing white settlers to settle on the land.
While delivering the judgment, Justice Waithaka dismissed the adverse possession claim after finding that Mr Moi owned the land for 11 years from 1997 to 2008 after buying it from Ol Pejeta.
PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP