The anticipated eviction of some 60,000 settlers from the Mau Forest complex is likely to snowball into a rallying point for Rift Valley politicians, as the 2022 General Election beckons.
In 2013, the politics around the conservation of the key water tower politically cost Orange Democratic Movement leader Raila Odinga.
The region had backed Raila in the 2007 polls. Since then, the it became his political Waterloo. His political nemesis, Deputy President William Ruto, fought the former PM’s efforts to save the Mau Forest.
The debate around the destruction of the Mau Forest complex and the need to conserve it seems to be a rich fodder for politicians in the region.
Two political giants from the region - Ruto and Baringo Senator Gideon Moi - are both keen to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2022.
Gideon, former Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto and a host of former and sitting MPs and governors have come together to safeguard the rights of the settlers staring at evictions.
The Deputy President is yet to come out publicly and declare his stand on the looming evictions, but analysts say the politics around the Mau are likely to create another force in the region that would go against Ruto.
“Issues around Mau Forest conservation and removal of families who have encroached in the water tower are likely to give us another political force in the vote-rich region,” says Harman Manyora.
Although some semblance of unanimity has emerged among Rift Valley leaders on the need for the government to carry out the second phase of the evictions in a humane way, its execution has remained a polarising issue.
Sometimes last year, some legislators aligned to the DP came out strongly against the government when the proposal to evict the settlers was made.
Monyora says the timing of the intended evictions is wrong, given the ruling Jubilee Party is sharply divided over the 2022 succession debate.
A year ago, Ruto’s attempt to support the government’s decision to evict settlers who had encroached on the forest in Narok South constituency backfired when a section of South Rift leaders disowned him.
Since he made the remarks at an event at Sogoo High School where part of the forest is located, he has avoided the issue.
But Ruto’s allies in the South Rift are playing down suggestions that the impending evictions will be a rallying point in the region.
Kipkelion West MP Hilary Koskei says the issue should not be politicised.
“The Deputy President does not need to capitalise on the Mau issue. I believe he will be part of the solution and not the problem,” Mr Koskei said.
Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot, a close ally of the DP, called for calm saying the issue will be resolved amicably.
“This is not about politics but the lives of the people. Those trying to politicise it should know that human lives are involved,” he says.
Areas targeted in the phase two of the Mau forest evictions include five group ranches, which the government believes have been extended into the forest land.
The leaders claim the 60,000 targeted for evictions are innocent people who legally acquired land through willing-buyer-willing-seller at the Enokishomi, Enoosokon, Nkaroni and Sisian group ranches.
In the first phase of the evictions, 10,000 settlers were evicted from Reiya ranch.