In a recent legal development, Ekaterra Tea, formerly known as Unilever, has been granted a court order that allows it to continue its occupation of a disputed piece of land in Kericho town. This decision comes as a significant step forward in an ongoing ownership dispute over the contested property.
A three-judge Bench of the Court of Appeal delivered the verdict, ruling in favor of Ekaterra Tea. The judges found that the company had presented compelling evidence demonstrating its legitimate occupation of the land. Part of this land is dedicated to tea cultivation, while another portion includes residential houses for its workers. Ekaterra Tea sought this legal remedy after the Environment and Land Court in Kericho initially ruled in favor of Mokal Investment Ltd, which was also laying claim to the same property.
The Court of Appeal judges, Daniel Musinga, Fatuma Sichale, and Fred Ochieng, deemed the applicant’s intended appeal as arguable. They emphasized that there was prima facie evidence suggesting that Ekaterra Tea possessed a grant related to the property. This grant had been temporarily surrendered for the purpose of subdividing the two land parcels, after which it was returned to the original owner.
Ekaterra Tea maintained that it is the lawful registered owner of the land, and the court was informed that the trial court had erred in failing to recognize this fact. The company explained that it had temporarily surrendered the grant for the purpose of subdivisions and had it rightfully returned.
Furthermore, Ekaterra Tea argued that Mokal Investment’s title deed was invalid, given that Ekaterra Tea had been occupying and extensively developing the land since 1957, planting tea bushes and trees.
However, Mokal Investment contested this application, claiming that Ekaterra Tea’s intended appeal lacked merit because the disputed property was non-existent. They insisted that they were the true occupants of the land. Additionally, the court learned that Ekaterra Tea had not presented an official search demonstrating its status as the registered owner of the property.
The Court of Appeal judges considered the potential harm that Mokal Investment could inflict upon the land, which included invasion, subdivision, interference with Ekaterra Tea’s operations, and damage to tea bushes, mature trees, and structures. They concluded that unless Ekaterra Tea’s request was granted, the property faced a real threat of destruction.
In response to these concerns, Ekaterra Tea sought a temporary order to prevent Mokal Investment from interfering with its land possession, including cutting down tea bushes, until the case reaches its final determination. This legal action followed an incident where Mokal Investment allegedly invaded the property on October 6, 2022, and commenced tree cutting. Ekaterra Tea filed a case seeking injunctive orders in response, but the lower court dismissed their request.
This ruling by the Court of Appeal is a significant development in the ongoing land ownership dispute between Ekaterra Tea and Mokal Investment. It ensures that Ekaterra Tea can maintain its operations on the disputed land while the legal proceedings continue. The case exemplifies the importance of a fair and thorough legal process in resolving property disputes.