South Rift leaders have turned the heat on Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko for sanctioning ‘biased’ Mau Forest evictions.
They also accused Mr Tobiko of misleading the Head of State over the forest’s cutline.
Led by Kipkelion West MP Hillary Koskei, the leaders argued that although a buffer zone of tea bushes had been planted around the forest during President Uhuru Kenyatta’s first term in office, the ongoing evictions were designed to overshoot the mark.
“The Mau conservation issue is something that must be addressed objectively, soberly and fairly. However, Mr Tobiko has proven that he is not fit to serve in the Government anymore because he has taken sides and is being tribal in the ongoing evictions in Mau Forest complex by declaring a non-existent cutline and which is meant to evict members of the Kalenjin community,” said Kosgei, who is also a member of the Parliamentary Environmental Committee.
Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot accused Tobiko of being part of a scheme by some Narok leaders to kick out members of the Kalenjin community from the area.
“There are two types of evictions being conducted in Mau Forest. The first approach is genuine and is meant to kick out illegal settlers who invaded the forest and the second one is political and targets members of the Kalenjin community living a distance from the forest boundary,” said Mr Cheruiyot.
Bomet Senator Christopher Langat argued that contrary to popular belief that some Rift Valley leaders were against forest conservation, they supported the ejection of squatters, who had invaded the forest but not genuine land owners living away from the buffer zone.
“Such land owners must be allowed to conduct their farming and other business in their farms because they have a constitutional right to own property anywhere in country, including Narok County,” said Koskei.
Their sentiments came even as a section of Maasai leaders issued a two-week ultimatum to the Government to evict the remaining 40,000 settlers living in the caveat area.
They maintain that should the State fail to act, they will mobilise community members to flush out the ‘illegal’ settlers from the Maasai Mau forest.
Speaking at Nkareta trading centre in Narok North on Saturday, Narok Senator Ledama ole Kina, Narok North MP Moitalel ole Kenta, former Nairobi Assembly Speaker Alex ole Magelo, among other leaders, blamed ‘cartels’ for expansion of group ranches.
The leaders reactions come days after area County Commissioner George Natembeya ordered those with any land ownership in the affected area which initially had 7,989 people, according to the 2008/09 Mau Task Force report, to surrender them.
The Maasai leaders dismissed the 2015 cutline and instead want the 2008 boundary be used and the settlers be evicted without any compensation as they invaded the forest.
The leaders also asked the Government to use the original map to determine the exact sizes of the five group ranches – Reiyo, Enakishomi, Sisiyan, Enoosokon and Nkaroni – which were expanded to increase settlement area.
They also faulted Kericho Governor Paul Chepkwony for filing a petition seeking to block the evictions and instead asked him to keep off Maasai Mau and Narok affairs.
Governor Chepkwony moved to court last Thursday seeking to stop the ongoing evictions, terming the manner in which the operation was being conducted as against the law.