The Jubilee Party secretary-general has been accused of supporting 'unlawful' Mau Forest evictions.
Speaking at a press conference at Parliament Buildings, Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot told Mr Raphael Tuju to apologise for appearing to sanitise 'gross violation of human rights'.
“Raphael Tuju owes the good Kenyans living in Mau Narok an apology. Your scornful dismissal of the issues raised by leaders from the region is disgusting to say the least. Please do the honourable thing,” Mr Cheruiyot said.
He also accused Mr Tuju of absconding his duties as a Special Cabinet Secretary.
According to the legislator, Tuju was to be the link between the Cabinet and the legislature.
“Where there is a clear conflict, he should seek to build bridges, not rush to press conferences to display his ignorance on weighty issues,” he said.
The Kericho lawmaker said Rift Valley MPs were protesting against the invasion of private land by rogue Government officers on the pretext of conservation.
“Our protest is against the continued silence by the county commissioner as more than 4,000 primary school children remain at home after interruption of their programme by this misadventure,” he said.
Last week, some Rift Valley leaders criticised the Government for the 'abrupt' eviction of people living in the Mau after several houses were burnt down.
West Pokot Governor John Lonyangapuo said the State should have devised a resettlement plan before the evictions.
Pokot South MP David Pkosing also faulted the Government for evicting people without a resettlement plan.
On Sunday, Tuju called out politicians and leaders opposed to the ongoing evictions from the Mau forest, saying the “Government must do what it has to do".
He singled out Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen, who has been at the forefront of defending the evictees, terming his remarks 'personal' and not useful for the Jubilee party.
The Government has maintained that the latest evictions were part of efforts to restore the water tower. Leaders have been split on the issue, with some criticising the exercise.
Others, however, have supported the evictions, terming them long overdue.
The evictions from Mau were first mooted by Deputy President William Ruto last month at Sogoo High School in Narok.
Mr Ruto asked those living beyond the forest cut-line to move out, saying environmental conservation was crucial for the country.
And yesterday, Narok streets teemed with protesters who registered their disappointment about the recent utterances of some Jubilee leaders in connection with the evictions.
The residents marched along the Narok-Maai Mahiu road from Cereals to the Narok-Nakuru junction, shouting slogans supporting the Government’s evictions.
Led by Maasai land rights activist Meitamei ole Dapash, the residents said the destruction of Maasai Mau forest was one of the causes of flash floods in the town during rainy seasons.
“Hundreds of cows have died and people ravaged by poverty because of the Mau destruction. We are in full support of the Government’s efforts to conserve the forest,” said Mr Dapash.
The leader said Mau forest supported over 20 million people in the continent and asked why Senator Murkomen was only particular about four schools that had been destroyed.
“Murkomen should not come here to tell us that four schools have been closed yet millions of people are suffering and animals are dying because of a handful of people living on forest land,” he said.
A former county council deputy chairman, Jackson Kamoe, said 20 years ago, the forest was intact and there were no frequent flash floods and mudslides, as was the case in Narok town currently.
On the ground, Nicholas Kimetto, a resident of Mau in Narok South, displayed his title deed. He was among those evicted.
Mr Kimetto claimed that despite having a title deed issued in 2004 by the Registrar of Lands in Narok, his house was among hundreds demolished and his family was now spending nights in the bush.
He claimed he had not crossed the border line and said he wondered why title deed holders have been evicted.
“I have a title issued to me in 2004. It indicates that I'm in Cismara and own a parcel of land. Despite having the document, my house was demolished and my family and children rendered homeless,” said Kimetto.
The title deed seen by The Standard is Cismara/Ololulunga/10130 and the land is approximately 43.98 hectares. It is signed by the Narok district land registrar.
Kimetto’s bewilderment mirrors that of dozens of others caught up in the latest contested evictions that revolve around a cutline.
In the 1980s, a commission was appointed by former President Daniel Moi to look into the boundary separating the Maasai Mau forest and settlement areas.
The commission, headed by Senior Chief Lerionka ole Ntutu, who is now deceased, mapped the boundaries, creating the cutline.
The Government, however, failed to publish, in the Kenya Gazette, the findings of the commission after they were contested by some of the beneficiaries of the land.
The boundaries were marked to facilitate sub-division of five group ranches that bordered the forest.
But after the sub-division, a large number of people went beyond the boundary between the forest and the settlement, creating confusion.
In 2005, the Ministry of Lands, then headed by Amos Kimunya, amended the forest boundary and allowed more people to occupy part of the land.
In 2008, Raila Odinga, the then prime minister, appointed a Mau complex task force to look into the conservation of the forest.
The report of the task force was handed to a Mau steering committee that was appointed by Mr Odinga.
The committee gazetted new boundaries that are now being used by the Government to evict people who went beyond the 24km forest cutline.
Excision of the Mau began in the 1970s, when chunks of the closed canopy forest ecosystem were set aside for settlement and development.
In later years up to 2001, it was used to settle people for political gain.
According to reports prepared by various State agencies and task forces formed to intervene in the destruction of the vital water tower, all the 22 forest blocks that form about 480,000 hectares have been affected.
Cherangany, Eburu, Kipkabus, Kipkurere, Maasai Mau, Enoosupukia, South West Mau, Koibatek, currently Mauche and Topoti, are some of the sections and sub-sections that were either excised or encroached.
Encroachment of the 46,000 hectare Maasai Mau section started in 1997 when five group ranches - Enkaroni, Enainkishomi, Reiyo, Salabwek and Sisian - were sub-divided and allocated to members.
Their boundaries were extended into the forest to accommodate powerful people in the previous Kanu regime, opening up the forest for settlement.
In 2001 alone, 67,000 hectares - half of the Eastern Mau Forest Reserve - were excised.
The reserve is the source of Njoro River, which drains into Lake Nakuru, a major tourist attraction.
Since 2000, according to the latest report on the status of the complex, more than 100,000 hectares (a quarter of the complex) have either been degraded or deforested.
From 1973 to 2009, the report says, the complex lost over 9,000 hectares within its official boundaries and another 35,000 hectares outside the protected areas.
Back in 2001, one quarter of South West Mau, the source of Sondu River, was excised.
Though conservation groups resisted this, in 2016, a year to the last election, the Government had planned to excise another 17,000 hectares to settle the landless.
Those who were accommodated on land in the former group ranches and who were issued with title deeds later sold their parcels to other people.
Most parcels have changed hands, with most of those buying the land ignorant of the fact that it was inside the forest.
After the red flag was raised in 2005 over destruction and fresh encroachment, the Government invalidated all title deeds.
The same year, settlers were evicted but were later allowed back because of the prevailing political situation.
Narok County Commissioner George Natembeya said those who were allocated land inside the forest and issued with title deeds had no genuine claim to it.
“They have title deeds but on the ground, they don’t have land. Adjudication before allocation was required,” said Mr Natembeya.
The official has maintained that the Government will use the 2008 boundary since the 2015 one was done illegally.
“The boundary we are using now is the Hassan Noor boundary,” he added.
The 2015 cutline, where the Nyayo Tea Zone has planted purple tea on a 25km area creating a buffer zone, was established two years after the Jubilee administration took power in a bid to resolve the perennial evictions.
Deputy President Ruto has insisted that those who have overstepped the 2015 boundary must leave the forest to allow conservation measures.
But Opposition leaders, mainly from Maasailand, have opposed the use of the tea zone cutline and instead are pushing for the implementation of the 2008 report.
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