The Mau poor are no criminals, just victims of a corrupt system

Mau Forest settlers follow a court proceeding on their evictions in Nakuru. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]
Newspapers may frustrate and bore you with their endless, lazy obsession with politicians. But it is often in the adverts and announcements that the hidden intrigues, imminent plans, opportunities and threats are discovered.

Monday is generally devoted to auctions and Friday to employment so be vigilant as your home, car or job could be up for grabs.

The poor on the other hand rarely access newspapers, yet are often served court orders in a space and language that they don’t comprehend. Such substituted service is frequently permitted while jeopardising the livelihoods and lives of thousands of citizens. Recently, Kenya Power issued such an order giving occupants of land underneath their power lines seven days to vacate and remove their belongings.

Thousands of families face imminent eviction, hardship and poverty and none of them will be compensated. Kenya Power has every right within the law to ensure no structures are placed within 30 metres of the high voltage lines.

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Their concern and obligation is the safety of affected people and the company’s investment. Yet they and the local administration should tell us why people were permitted to construct homes and businesses in such an illegal, dangerous manner in the first place. Similarly, before we condemn these unfortunate people as criminals, we might listen to why they endanger themselves in such a risky, unsafe environment. Had they nowhere else to set up home?

A similar scenario is emerging in the Mau Forest. The one million acre forest cover is Kenya’s largest water catchment being the source of 12 of the nation’s rivers. The Government has a moral duty to recover the forest for it is the lungs of East Africa. Losing the Mau will kill the environment and bring poverty and drought to millions. It is a national and regional concern, way beyond the immediate interests of failed politicians.

As it stands, 40 per cent of the forest cover is depleted.

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The government has given 10,000 families (60,000 people) two months to vacate. The notice regarding forced removal will take effect on November 1. You have got to feel empathy for these families who face an uncertain future and immediate destitution. Whether they had illegal titles or no titles at all, they were brought here by their own political leaders. They proceeded to build homes, schools and community. The vast majority have nowhere else to call home.

These are decent, hardworking people and must be treated with respect and assistance in any relocation exercise. They are innocent, unfortunate victims of a corrupted political and administrative system that used them to get votes and retain power.

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The poor were allocated a few acres in Mau as a cover for political figures to allocate hundreds of acres to their families and cronies. These well connected land grabbers are the real criminals that must be prosecuted if Jubilee is serious about fighting corruption. Those chiefs who permitted structures under power lines for a few shillings must similarly be pursued and charged with fraud.

If the poor have nowhere else to establish families except in gazetted forests, underneath power lines, road reserves, railway lines and slums, who then is to blame? What does that say about injustice, inequality, a failed land settlement programme and the complete absence of urban planning?

Put another way, why is the government selective in evicting the poor while the elites remain in occupation of hundreds of acres of illegally allocated land all over the country? Can’t this land be distributed among those unfortunates facing eviction and crucifixion?

What every eviction demonstrates in this country is that the poor are regarded as a criminal class and easy targets for the mega crimes committed by the ruling classes and dynasties. Surely, if the families that have ruled this country for half a century have hearts,they would come to their rescue. If the ruling families possess more than a million acres between them, surely their Christian faith demands that they should now come to the assistance of the victims of a corrupted land administration that they oversaw? Do they have a conscience at all?

Judging by the composition of the nominees for the National Land Commission (NLC) this regime has not the slightest intention of addressing land injustice. They will just oversee the arrival of the bulldozers.

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[email protected]  @ GabrielDolan1

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CorruptionMau ForestMau Forest evictions