Looming Mau eviction as Ruto orders illegal settlers out of forest

Deputy President William Ruto (second right) with Narok Governor Samuel Tunai (right) and his Kajiado counterpart Joseph ole Lenku and Narok West MP Gabriel Tongoyo at Sogoo High School. The DP ordered eviction of the illegal settlers in Mau forest. [Robert Kiplagat, Standard]

The fate of the over 600 families who encroached the Maasai Mau seems sealed after the government issued them a vacation notice.  

A move seeking to conserve the 46,000-hectare forest which is the largest water tower in East and Central Africa.

Deputy President William Ruto who spoke at Sogoo High School in Narok South where part of the forest is located asked those who are living beyond the cutline to move out saying environmental conservation was crucial for the country.

DP Ruto also announced that those who are legal settlers will be issued with title deeds and 15 schools that were demolished in the 2005 eviction shall be rebuilding adding that the government has allocated Sh65Million for the project.

“Those who live inside the forest will be moved out. We have planted tea to separate the forest and the settlement area as we have to conserve our environment,” he said.

In 2008, Ruto led the campaign against Raila Odinga’s push to have squatters out of the forest. Raila’s argument then was the squatters were destroying the water catchment.

This was yet another development in political intrigues that saw the then Environment Minister John Michuki reverse the Kibaki Government decision to kick the squatters out of the forest.

Now, DP Ruto’s announcement comes barely days after Kenya Forest Service (KFS) and the Narok County government were embroiled in a tussle over management of the forest with the former accusing the latter of lacking capacity to protect the forest.

Last week, KFS Chairman Peter Kinyua and the Chief Forest Conservator Monica Kalenda issued a presser clarifying that the forest was under the county and that theirs was only support and advisory.

Following the scuffle, the government through the Narok County Commissioner George Natembeya suspended the impeding eviction but DP Ruto’s statement now evokes mixed reactions from different quarters.

Ruto’s announcement however received support from Maasai Council of Elders who reiterated that the fight to conserve the forest will only be won after the illegal settlers are flushed out.

The elders led by Maasai Council of elders Organizing Secretary Hassan ole Kamwaro and Council’s Chairman, Narok County Francis ole Nooseli termed KFS’s failure to evict people from the forest as being hypocritical.

“The KFS should be candid on this matter. They (KFS) cannot purport to be arresting illegal loggers, charcoal, cedar posts while the suspects are there in the forest. The enemies of our forest are those who are living in the forest,” said Kamwaro.

He said Mau forest was an international forest by status with over 12 rivers and nine lakes depending on it as well as tourism in Masai Mara and Serengeti Game Reserves.

They however supported that forest to be under the custody of the county government which they said is a bonafide trustee since the national government was the one that de-gazetted the forest and allowed encroachers in.