We will arrest those who sold Mau land, Tobiko tells leaders

Residents who fled from the Mau Forest's Sierra Leone area in Narok South rest by the roadside at Chepokundi in Kuresoi South, Nakuru, on Saturday night. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Senior Government officials, politicians and ranch owners who hived off land in Mau Forest and sold it to locals now face arrest and prosecution.

Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko yesterday revealed that Directorate of Criminal Investigations (DCI) boss George Kinoti had completed investigations into the encroachment of about 14,000 hectares in the Mau Complex by well-connected individuals.

Mr Kinoti has forwarded the files to Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) Noordin Haji for action, signalling arrests could be looming amid the ongoing emotive evictions.

Tobiko described those involved in the encroachment as “big fish”, stating that they were the same people behind the push to compensate the affected families.

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He spoke when he issued a statement in Parliament that the evictions are unstoppable and have to be done “now or never”, adding that they have been sanctioned by the Government.

Illegal document

Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen had earlier claimed that the evictions had not been approved by the Cabinet, but were being pushed by Tobiko.

The “big fish” sold part of the gazetted water catchment area to nearly 7,000 individuals, according to documents tabled yesterday before the National Assembly’s Environment Committee chaired by Maara MP Kareke Mbiuki. 

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“Criminal investigations have been done by the Directorate of Criminal Investigations. The files relating to these criminalities are now with the Director of Public Prosecutions who will soon make a decision,” said Tobiko.

He continued: “The ballooning into the forest would not have occurred without participation of ranch and Government officials. The fact that the documents were signed by Government officials does not make an illegal document legal.”

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The Cabinet secretary also advised individuals who purchased land in the forest to provide particulars of the individuals who sold them the land for legal action to be taken.

He further clarified that none of the affected families would be compensated because they  acquired their title deeds illegally.

Yesterday’s proceedings were momentarily disrupted by MPs Hillary Koskei (Kipkelion West) and Charity Kathambi (Njoro,) who banged tables after Tobiko stated that the title deeds held by 716 individuals were “mere pieces of papers”.

The two lawmakers shouted down the Cabinet secretary while describing his remarks as an insult to the affected families.

Mr Koskei even hurled insults as he said Tobiko had no powers to declare that a Government-issued document was null and void, before demanding that due process be followed.

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The lawmaker argued that only the courts can invalidate title deeds.

“These helpless families can only be evicted through a legal process. We want a plan which is consistent and fair. When a Government wants to declare a title invalid, it needs to go to the High Court. This is the only path to invalidating a title deed,” he said.

But Tobiko was adamant that the nearly 16,000 individuals targeted for evictions must leave the protected area as they acquired the parcels illegally.

Valid titles

“These are illegal transactions between private individuals and are of no legal or constitutional validity. Compensation whether in form of monetary compensation or provision of alternative land is not a matter of right of entitlement because compensation presupposes validity of title,” he told the committee.

Tobiko hit out at Rift Valley leaders who have been inciting locals against leaving the area, stating that the forest was not about the Maasai or Kalenjin communities, but rather saving the country’s ecological system.

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He told the committee that past eviction attempts had been shelved for political convenience, adding that the affected families had been used by politicians.

“Some leaders have been trooping into the forest and inciting the people against leaving. But the locals have realised that for far too long, they have become a political footbridge,” he said.

He revealed that nearly 1,000 families have left the forest since the second phase of evictions started on September 1.

The CS said 3,372 households (approximately 16,000 individuals) were targeted in the exercise.

Some of the committee members told the CS to conduct the process in a humane manner to prevent violation of rights of the affected families.

The committee further demanded that evictions be extended to all water towers across the country so that the exercise is not seen to be targeting the poor only.

Tobiko told the committee that 15 schools affected by the evictions were not recognised by the Ministry of Education.

He said the schools lacked land ownership documents required for registration. The learning institutions also did not have staff posted by the Teachers Service Commission.

Tobiko said pupils in the affected schools would be moved to neighbouring institutions.

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DPPNoordin HajiKipchumba MurkomenMau Forest