Eight months on, Mau Forest evictees still homeless
Pending in courtHad it not been for a case pending in court, about 40,000 settlers who claim legal ownership of the forest land in Sierra Leone, Kalyasoi and Nyamira Ndogo settlements inside Maasai Mau would also be in the cold. Children of evictees who were in primary schools inside the forest before the eviction, were not allowed back and Kenya Certificate of Primary Education candidates who registered in those schools, sat it in neighbouring institutions. George Natembeya, Narok County Commissioner, says the schools were not gazetted as examination centres or learning institutions. Most locals are poor, and depend on food and handouts from politicians and other well wishers; since the infamous June eviction, they sit by the roadside during the day and disappear into the expansive forest at night. Paul arap Mutai, a father of six, says they used to depend on politicians from Narok, Bomet, Kericho and other parts of the country for food and warm clothing, but they have since stopped visiting them, leaving them to fend for themselves. He decries the weather is too cold for infants and children, who often contract upper respiratory diseases like pneumonia. Mary Chebet, 31, formerly from Kipchoge lives in Saptet just outside the forest. The mother of four says if the government does not find them alternative land, it should allow them to go back to the forest. “We were not given enough time to harvest maize, vegetables and potatoes. We depend on handouts which have run out,” she says. Though their number is growing thin, most evictees still camp at Olmekenyu, Olpusomoru, Tendwet and Sogoo trading centres. Nicholas Meregi, who has been a settler in Kitaben since 2001 says he sold his five-acre land at Tumoi to a prominent politician at Sh450,000 per acre, which was then way above the market prices to settle in the forest. “The politician was buying out his neighbours to expand his land. An acre then was going for Sh250,000. “He told us there was cheap and fertile land in Mau and that is why we trooped here,” says Merigi, now a grandfather of four. Settlers say they bought parcels of land on willing seller, willing buyer basis from earlier settlers who they claim were senior people in the Kanu government and were later issued with title deeds. “We paid stamp duty for transactions. We were shocked to hear the title deeds were useless,” says John Matutu, who bought land in the formerly Enoosokon group ranch. Matutu, who hails from Chepsoen in Kericho, says his name was in the original register of the ranch, and that he was included as an acceptee after paying a fee. “When sub-division started, I was allocated land and my name put in the register by group ranch officials. I was shocked when I was told that my land was more than five kilometres inside the forest,” he says. Despite being out of the forest, evictees often engage with security personnel under the Joint Mau Forest Security Force in hide and seek games, with the earlier wanting to access the forest for grazing and to harvest crops they left when the eviction squad comprising the Kenya Forest Service, Kenya Wildlife Service, regular and administration police and Narok County security personnel decended on them. “Some have lost their cattle while fleeing the advancing security personnel. Some who have been found inside harvesting their crops have been clobbered and injured,” says Kipkorir Bore, formerly of Kaplelach settlement inside the controversial forest, which Narok County government holds in trust for the locals. All Maasai settlers who were kicked out of Nkoben area have been accommodated elsewhere. Most, it is said, were land speculators while others had land elsewhere. Those still in Sierra Leone, Kalyasoi and Nyamira Ndogo settlements where most have title deeds, women, elderly and children have been withdrawn as the outcome of the case is being awaited. Valuables have been taken away to other places to limit destruction of property. “In 2005 and subsequent eviction, we lost a lot. Our houses were burnt, cattle stolen and food burnt in granaries. Title deeds and school certificates were also burnt,” says William Cheruiyot, from Sierra Leone area, which acquired the name after some UN peace keepers who were returning from the West African country bought parcels of land there. Nyan’gau Ayuka, who owns seven acres in Nyamira Ndogo says in July 2018, at the height of the eviction, he relocated his wife and three children to Ikonge area. “The children were in September enrolled in schools back home. I am left alone, tiling land before the impending eviction,” he says.