By Alex Kiprotich
As political temperature rises over the Mau settlement, focus turns to powerful people in Government who facilitated the excision and plunder of the forest.
One man has followed the emotive debate keenly but has maintained studious silence despite allegations concerning his role.
Mr Sammy Mwaita Human encroachment is the biggest threat to the Mau water catchment. Photo: File/Standard
Mr Sammy Mwaita, who was the Commissioner of Lands at the time admits being responsible for degazetting parts of Mau Forest, reveals how powerful people benefited from the Mau settlements.
Mr Sammy Mwaita
Human encroachment is the biggest threat to the Mau water catchment. Photo: File/Standard
"Nobody with land can escape because records are clear. Some of those who are chest thumping are in self-denial," he told The Standard on Sunday.
He said even those who have already sold their parcels of land are in denial because records show who owns what and where.
"They will deny but they know what they have or what they owned and who they sold it to," he says.
Mwaita has been mentioned in Prime Minister Raila’s Odinga’s taskforce on Mau as one of those who benefited from the illegal allocations. He admits owning 20 hectares in Ngongongeri extension in Eastern Mau, Nakuru District.
‘I have no apologies’
"I was allocated land by the President and I feel proud to own it. I have no apologies," he says.
Mwaita, who served as Lands Commissioner between 2000 and 2003, denies he is to blame for approving irregular allocations.
He claims his only role was to degazette the land in 2001 and facilitate issuance of title deeds through the Lands Registrar.
"The only part I played was to degazette forest land, which had been settled on long before I came into office," he says. He maintains he was only following a Government directive.
"The law is very clear on the work of the Commissioner of Lands and I do not regret anything because I was simply following the law," he says.
He says out of the more than 60,000 acres excised in the Mau, he only gave out 3,000.
"The only parcels of land I gave out is the Kiptagich extension, which comprises 600 plots," he adds.
He claims allocation of land was done by the Provincial Administration and the Forest department.
"Almost everybody who has land in the Mau got it before it was degazetted," he notes.
Mwaita says settlement in Mau dates back to 1979 but intensified in mid 1990s when the World Bank compelled the Government to settle the Ogiek community.
In 1995, Kenya Indigenous Forest Conservation surveyed the area and proposed that 25,000 hectares be excised for forest dwelling communities, he explains.
"This opened room for misuse and doctoring of names of beneficiaries and prominent personalities ended up benefiting," he says.
Nonetheless, he maintains the principal aim of resettling the Ogiek was achieved.
He argues his office was by-passed and people who spearheaded the settlement and issuance of allotment letters were Provincial Administration officials in Rift Valley. He claims former ministers of Environment and Land and Settlement should disclose their roles in the excision of the forest.
"The minister in charge of Environment did the paper work that authorised the excision of parts of the forest. The High Court even stopped former Minister Francis Nyenze from excising it in 2001," he says.
He says Nyenze, Noah Katana Ngala and Henry Kosgey, who served as ministers in the Environment docket, should reveal what they know about Mau allocations. Nyenze, who approved the excision of part of the Mau complex to settle the Ogiek, agrees politicians abused the process to grab land. He admitted he signed the excision order after a Cabinet decision.
"We wanted the Ogiek to be removed from the forest and settled on the periphery, but powerful individuals hijacked the process and started encroaching into the forest," said Nyenze, who served between 1999-2001.
The former Kitui West MP said politicians excised parts of the forest for themselves and their cronies, leading to destruction of the complex. He said the Cabinet decision to settle the Ogiek was done in good faith to protect the forest.
Mwaita alleges the Office of President and the ministers enlisted the late Rift Valley PC Ishmael Chelanga, former Provincial Forest Officer John Rotich and the current AP Commandant Kinuthia Mbugua in the scheme.
Mbugua who was then the Nakuru DC, he alleges, signed allotment cards while Chelanga issued the allotment letters.
"The Provincial Administration reduced the Office of Commissioner of Lands to a ceremonial one. All allocations were done by these two officers and then forwarded to the commissioner’s office for formalisation," he claims.
He says his role and that of his predecessor Wilson Gachanja was to simply clear title deeds through the Land Registrar.
"We had absolutely nothing to do with illegal allocations. The Provincial Administration did everything and we have been portrayed as the bad guys," he says.
Rotich, the former provincial forest officer, said he allocated prominent personalities and politicians Mau land because he was acting on instructions from the President. He admitted he demarcated land to them because he could not go against Government directives.
"It’s true I approved the list containing people who were neither ogiek nor squatters because I was directed to do so," he said.
"Yes it was wrong but I was just a junior officer and could not go against what had been decided in Nairobi," he added.
He collaborated Mwaita’s allegations that he and Mbugua approved lists brought in by prominent personalities who had been sent by top government officials.
Mwaita argues the Provincial Administration began hiving off parts of Eastern Mau into eight settlement schemes in 1996.
These were Elburgon, Kapsita, Molo Kapsita, Sururu, Teret, Likia, Marioshoni, Nessuit and Ngongeri settlement schemes, he claims.
He says Elburgon and Molo Kapsita were used to settle 1,600 members of the Kikuyu community who had been displaced in 1992.
He says between 1979 and early 1990s, there were several excisions done at Western Mau to create room for the growing population and in which politicians allotted their cronies.
The settlement schemes include Chepakundi, Cheptuech, Amalo, Old Kiptagich, Tinet, Ndoinet and Saino.
Former Provincial Settlement Officer (1999-2003) Isaac Lelkutwa says land had already been allocated when he took office.
Mwaita argues had the Lands office been allowed to do its work without intimidation, things would be different today.
—Additional reporting by Mutinda Mwanzia