The importance of Mau forest to Kenyans and indeed East Africans’ lives, and sustainability of its natural resources have never been in dispute even to those opposed to the eviction of illegal settlers.
Indeed, the UN Environment Programme calls the Mau forest the single most important watershed in the Rift Valley and western Kenya. This is because rivers from the forest support agriculture, hydropower, urban water supply, tourism, rural livelihoods and wildlife habitat throughout much of Kenya.
As a part of the catchment for Lake Victoria and the White Nile, the Mau forest is also of international importance, especially with respect to water quality.
The Mara River runs through the world-famous Maasai Mara National Reserve. It’s fame is well-deserved due to the concentration of wildlife. Without rainwater collected first in the Mau forest, then fed into the watershed, rivers like the Mara would not get the water that is the lifeline for wildlife and people.
Eleven other rivers also get their water from this critically important mountain habitat.
Taken political angle
It is in realisation of the above factors that the government has embarked on restoring the forest by evicting illegal squatters in the phase 2 of the exercise.
The evictions are meant to curb the loss of trees and natural habitat because when there are fewer trees, there’s less rain, and therefore less water drains into rivers and lakes feeding all the animals and people who have no other supply.
Already, some of Mau’s rivers have shifted from perennial to seasonal due to decreased rainfall. The recent severe drought is believed to be related to deforestation in the Mau forest.
But sadly, the evictions have taken a political angle with some leaders vowing to do everything at their disposal to frustrate the process. On the other hand, other leaders are calling for the speedy execution of the evictions, arguing their communities stand to suffer immense losses if the exercise is not hurried. To add to the circus, a group of lawyers from Rift Valley has filed a case in court to thwart the government’s plans to evict the families but the government through the Ministry of Environment maintains that people must move out.
As Farmers Party, we wish to point out that the restoration of Mau forest is long overdue.
However, there is need to exercise caution and to listen to the voice of reason while undertaking the exercise. First, the government must admit it slept on the job when hundreds of settlers invaded the forest.
The state also turned a blind eye to allegations that some politically well-connected individuals and senior government officials sold land in the forest to unsuspecting members of the public.
It is therefore inhumane for the government to declare the eviction of over 60,000 families without considering alternative settlement for them, given that some hold genuine tittle deeds.
While we should treat with caution sentiments by Kericho Senator Aaron Cheruiyot and Belgut MP Nelson Koech that the residents there hold genuine titles, there is need for the government to come clear and give a list of those with genuine documents.
It is also time the State takes drastic action against those who sold the Mau forest land to unsuspecting individuals. The sellers should not only face the law but their properties seized by the state, sold and the proceeds used to resettle the squatters.
We also urge President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto to fulfill the commitment they made in 2005 and 2009 when they broke ranks with top government officials led by then-Prime Minister Raila Odinga by rooting for resettlement and compensation of the Mau evictees.
In the 2012 and 2017 General Election, Uhuru and Ruto also repeatedly pledged to the settlers that they would be compensated, resettled and the government would respect the sanctity of title deeds. The President and his deputy are also on record saying that the government had pumped Sh100 million to construct 15 schools in Narok South — where children were kicked out in last year’s eviction of 9,000 families.
In the past, the government has been accused of carrying out ‘brutal’ Mau evictions by torching houses, intimidating people and forcing children to sleep in the cold. It is now time the evictions are carried out in a humane manner, with the welfare of the poor, including school children, taken into account.
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