Isaac Ruto & Company playing disgraceful KANU politics with Kenya’s livelihood
Sitting some 250 kilometers North-West of Nairobi, the Mau Forest Complex covers approximately 400,000 hectares (about 900km2) straddling no less than ten administrative districts in the Rift Valley Province. At independence in 1963, it was the single largest block of montane and moist indigenous forest in East Africa but thanks to partisan party politics it has now been sadly depleted to about 22 patches of forest.
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As the country’s biggest water catchment area, the Mau forest occupies a central place in the economic and ecological lifeline of the people of Rift Valley, Western and Nyanza provinces. Indeed, the national economy stands to lose over US $300 million to the tea, tourism and energy sectors alone if the forest of the Mau Complex continues to be degraded. The Tanzanian government has already formally protested about the effects the Mau degradation is costing her environment and economy, while the Uganda and Egypt governments are said to be closely watching how Kenya will resolve this Mau fiasco that has now taken an international dimension.
Past political expediency resulted into systematic illegal excision of huge parcels that reduced forest cover in Kenya from approximately 1.7 million hectares in 1963 to 1.4 million hectares as at 2005, which translates to only 2.5% of the total land area and a meager 1.7% under closed canopy. A country with less than 10% of its area under closed canopy forest is considered “environmentally unsecure”.
At the height of his autocratic rule, President Moi’s KANU government de-gazetted huge tracts of forest land to irregularly reward party supporters. The infamous Ndung'u land report revealed that there are more than 200,000 illegal and irregular title deeds which were fraudulently issued in the Mau Complex, most of them to politically connected personalities, some of whom later sold the land to unsuspecting investors and members of the public.
Lately, the Mau has been turned into a nasty political tug of war for supremacy between MPs from the Maasai and Kipsigis communities, and this war is already threatening to degenerate into ethnic clashes. To make matters worse, some of the Kipsigis MPs led by Isaac Ruto are using the Mau as a tool of blackmail for settling political scores (read: cabinet appointments) within ODM. The Kipsigis MPs are throwing needless roadblocks into efforts to reclaim and restore the Mau forest as they know it is their people who are occupying and destroying the forest while, a little further downstream, Maasai communities are watching in horror as rivers are drying up and weather patterns are becoming harsher. Others hypocrites opposing the Mau evictions like Franklin Bett are themselves beneficiaries of the fraudulent Mau allocations by Moi.
The very nature of our politics has effectively turned the Mau Forest into very hot political potato as well as a massive environmental time bomb. The reality of the matter is that there is only one solution to the Mau problem: TOTAL EVICTION
Considering the loud war-cries emanating from the Kipsigis axis, it seems pretty obvious that we are heading for confrontation and it goes without saying that the restoration of the Mau Forest will mean forcefully uprooting thousands of squatter families, compensating them and re-settling them elsewhere. This may sound inhuman to our so-called human rights lobby groups, but it certainly guarantees the future of millions of Kenyans for whom the waters provided by the Mau mean life. Already, the commissioning of the Japanese funded Sondu Miriu hydro power station in Nyanza province has aborted due to low water levels on the river which is as a direct result of the destruction of the Mau Forest. In the already battered tourism sector, the world famous annual Mara Wildebeest migration, dubbed the 7th Wonder of the World, is also severely threatened by human settlement in the Mau.
In 2005, the then NARC government unilaterally sanctioned Kenyan security forces to forcibly evict an estimated 3000 families (about 15,000 people) destroying seven primary schools and affecting thousands of students. The displaced people were left with no access to food, shelter, sanitation facilities or education, and physical infrastructure was also destroyed. According to IDMC, allegations of rape and theft of harvested crops by evicting officers was reported. The brutality in which the evictions were carried out led to the suicide of three people, and one man suffered a heart attack when his school torched. A repeat of these unfortunate events is probably what Kipsigis MPs are concerned about when demanding for acceptable compensation and resettlement. President Kibaki has said that the resettlement will be conducted humanely. PM Raila has also assured that this time the evictions would be given a human face to ensure the fundamental rights of the affected individuals are not violated.
The latest initiative by Prime Minister in forming an all inclusive Mau Forest Conservation Task Force deserves the express support of all Kenyans. The 22 member all-inclusive task force is firstly expected to draw up its own terms of reference through consultations with all stakeholders including residents and then proceed to develop a time-bound implementation plan of evicting, compensating and re-settling those who currently reside in the Mau Forest. Ultimately, government plans to re-demarcate the forest boundaries, fence off the forest and also put in place an effective long-term management plans to reclaim and sustain the jewel that is Mau Forest. The success of these plans will mean that the country will have averted a major economic disaster and unthinkable environmental catastrophe. It will also mean another feather on to RAO's already thickly feathered political cap.
The Government also ought to prosecute all those politicians and public servants who were adversely involved in illegal demarcation of the forest in the first place. I mean, if President Moi ordered these illegal allocations, he must be called into account and made to answer charges of abuse of office!
The recommendations of the Ndungu Report may have been too drastic in suggesting amendments to sections of the constitution to facilitate the formation of a Lands Title Tribunal to enable the revocation and rectification of all irregular title deeds in the Mau and other forest., but it I think is time for us to bite the bullet for the sake of future generations.
Resources: Mau Complex Under Siege: Continuous destruction of Kenya’s largest forest, UNEP, 2005