By Peter Mutai and Osinde Obare
Prime minister Raila Odinga and his rival in Orange Democratic Movement, Agriculture minister William Ruto, were in the vast Rift Valley Province.
The PM was in the South while Ruto was in the North. Between them, little was said about the health of ODM or their outlandish differences, especially after the recent Cabinet retreat in Mombasa.
But the Mau Forest evictions and the unfolding humanitarian crisis were covered in their speeches. Raila said Parliament and Cabinet had sanctioned the evictions but Ruto said this was not the case.
Raila’s arrival stirred residents of Chepalungu, whose MP Mr Isaac Ruto is one of the emerging anti-Raila voices. It had some measure of triumph given the absence of Rift MPs and the sensitivity of Mau issue in the region.
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Excitement and ecstasy greeted Raila as he arrived in Chepalungu even though none of the Rift’s elected leaders was in sight. The PM was there to inaugurate the new district headquarters at Siongiroi, which the area MP had opposed in favour of Sigor Township.
Again, the task of chaperoning Raila in the Kalenjin heartland fell on Nominated MP Musa Sirma, who, like ODM chairman Henry Kosgey, has urged caution in the community in regard to the Eldoret North MPs’ presidential ambition.
In Cherangany, Mr William Ruto’s outspoken allies, including the local MP Mr Joshua Kuttuny, appeared to have taken a code of silence not to talk about Raila in regard to Mau.
The Agriculture minister two weekends ago accused Raila of use the Mau conservation issue to win international accolades to the extent he was trampling upon those who loyally supported him in 2007 presidential election.
Raila’s name may not have featured, but the Mau evictions dominated the Cherangany fundraiser with the Agriculture minister and Information minister Samuel Poghiso accusing the Government of applying double standards on Mau. They vowed not they would not rest until the evictees were compensated and resettled. They also criticised Forestry minister Dr Noah Wekesa for branding the evictees as criminals, notwithstanding their sufferings.
Government not sincere
"We will not rest until these people are resettled and given the necessary financial support because they are suffering on the roadside," said Mr William Ruto.
The Eldoret North MP said the Government was not sincere in the eviction after overlooking what Cabinet and Parliament resolved — that Mau settlers be evicted after being compensated and resettled. "Some people are happy seeing others suffering in the open and starving. The eviction is inhumane and illegal," he added. "These leaders supporting the eviction are people who have never slept hungry and in the open without a blanket,’’ said the minister.
Over at Siongiroi, Raila’s entourage landed in two choppers as supporters of area MP were edged out of the venue. During a brief scuffle the excited crowd caught up with one of the youths alleged to be part of a team in hired van, but elders restrained them from harming him. The crowd attempted to stone the van they believed carried hired youths but it sped off towards Sigor. Mr Isaac Ruto would later say he was not invited and Raila "gate-crashed" his constituency to divert attention from Mau evictions.
Security was tight security with more than 50 police officers on watch.
The political symbolism of the inauguration was discernible from the fact the PM was accompanied by Cabinet Ministers James Orengo, Fred Gumo, Chris Obure and Assistant minister Joseph Nkaiserry, as well as 230 civic leaders from Bomet, Kericho, Sotik and Trans Mara. Orengo’s Lands ministry will play a significant role in the resettlement programme Raila promised yet again.
Raila and his team headed to Siongiroi Catholic Church for a service and later held a harambee in aid of a prayer house. Raila reiterated the plight of genuine squatters displaced from the Mau forest. Rift Valley MPs kept off but Cabinet ministers Dr Sally Kosgei and Mr Henry Kosgey, as well as ODM MP Magerer Langat, sent their apologies through Sirma. Also in the PMs entourage was Nyando MP Fred Outa.
There were songs of yote ya wezekana bila Ruto (All is possible without Ruto) but it was not clear which Ruto they were referring to.
Raila urged Kenyans to read the draft and give their views freely. The PM said Kenya must have in a place by April next year. He said genuine Mau settlers with title deeds would be compensated and that the decision to conserve Mau was reached at the Cabinet and later approved by Parliament.
Raila hit out at a section of Cabinet and MPs from Rift valley for misleading Kenyans on the Mau evictions. "These people are shedding crocodile tears. Where were they in the Cabinet since none of them voiced his or her objection with the recommendations of the task force?’’ he asked
He further said the task force recommended that Mau settlers with title deeds would be compensated or given alternative land. "Those who encroached into the forest must leave to pave way for the conservation of the water tower. Some of the settlers had encroached into the forest to burn charcoal and carry out logging activities and I wonder why some politicians are inciting them not to leave the forest," he said.
Register with government
He repeated the Government would assist genuine squatters who have nowhere to go but he did not elaborate.
The PM said some of the settlers have heeded the Government order and gone back to their original homes.
Raila said those who have been left behind should be considered for resettlement.
The PM appealed to those who have moved out their homes in the forest to register with the Government saying this will help the Government assisting them.
Orengo said the Government has embarked on a programme through his ministry to settle the landless people across the country.
Gumo told Rift Valley MPs should look for solutions instead of politicising it. "They should have come to the Cabinet and raised the issue instead of making noise," he added.
Prime ministers Spokesman Dennis Onyango said the Chepalungu MP had been invited to the function by the PM’s office.
"There are Maasais, Kalenjins, Kisiis and Turkanas (here) and so Kalenjin leaders must not pretend to be speaking for Rift Valley," Nkaiserry said.