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Explosive Mau forest dossier

BUSINESS
By | July 27th 2009

By Standard Team

All human settlements in the Mau Forest Complex, Kenya’s shrinking and endangered water tower, could be wiped out within three months from the day Cabinet adopts its Task Force report.

Even as politicians and Government play verbal Ping-Pong, the final draft of the Prime Minister’s Task Force Report for Cabinet, makes far-reaching recommendations that could further excite passions set off by the row over Mau.

But it does not stop there — it sets the stage for a more furious war between Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Agriculture Minister William Ruto and probably an end to their 2007 political alliance.

On Sunday Ruto, whose jabs at Raila have been confined to analogies on why his community needs a more sincere ‘friend’, openly said he was prepared to cut links with Raila if Mau settlers will be removed without compensation. "I am ready to cut links with Raila if the Government repeats what it did to settlers in the Mau in 2005," he said referring to brutal eviction of some settlers in the forest by security forces that year.

Ruto took on Raila as Deputy Prime minister Uhuru Kenyatta, to whom he was recently perceived to be warming up to through a Kikuyu-Kalenjin alliance, said the evictees must be compensated fully.

"To imagine, as some leaders are saying, that we can just wish away the stark reality of the potential for fresh hostilities among the peoples’ living in the region is not only deceiving ourselves but also an abdication and dereliction of duty,’’ said Uhuru in a statement.

The Task Force is also asking for Cabinet’s approval for non-compensation for companies under whose names leading politicians in the Kanu era secured land in Mau but hid behind trading names.

It also is pushing for compensation to be restricted to title deed owners and for parcels not more than five acres — another blow to powerful Kanu’s influence peddlers who sought the land under the guise of squatters but got more than what was meant for the landless, and most times, several parcels under different names. The five-acre threshold was the standard allottment size fixed to the majority of the beneficiaries.

A copy of the final draft shown to The Standard, and which could be tabled before Cabinet on Monday, also recommends prosecution of and ban from those who sliced and dished way chunks of the forest cover.

"All persons involved in the allocation of forestland in an irregular manner and/or against the Government’s stated purposes of settlement schemes should be investigated and prosecuted in accordance with the law,’’ says the Task Force.

As part of the effort to protect Mau, the Task Force wants it secured by an armed force, fenced all around, and its management transferred to a new body it proposed — Mau Forests Complex Authority. It proposes the new authority’s board have representatives of all stakeholders.

The Task Force also wants Mau put under a Joint Enforcement Unit that "should report on operational, administrative and financial matters to an Enforcement Committee chaired by the Provincial Commissioner, Rift Valley."

New map

It recommends that the unit be put under the one command provided by Kenya Wildlife Service — and not the Forest Department, as had been the case. The Task Force will also be pushing for gazettement of new Mau Forest Map in line with its findings as well as issuance by Ministry of Lands of title deeds for the 21 forest reserves under Mau Forests Complex, by the end of this year.

"All title deeds given to companies should be revoked without compensation; and third party purchasers for value should be compensated at market value,’’ it reads in part.

It goes on: "All title deeds that amount to allocation of more than one parcel to a same beneficiary should be revoked. The revocation of these titles should be made without compensation.’’

Its report also unmasks the frightening levels of degradation, death of rivers, threat to agriculture and hydroelectric power sources, as well as imbalance in Kenya’s ecosystem.

It also balances out blame for the allocations between President Kibaki and his predecessor:

"The examination of the Land Registries (as of October 2008) revealed that out of the 18,649 titled parcels in the excised areas, 12,616 parcels (approximately 68 per cent) were titled after 22 April 2002 in disregard of a High Court order.

The majority of these 12,616 title deeds… were issued by the President (Kibaki) shortly before the 2005 constitutional Referendum."

The report radically recommends that all non-deserving persons and other entities that benefited from illegal and/or irregular allocations of land in the Mau Forests Complex be given an opportunity to surrender their land within a period of three months after the adoption of the report of the Task Force without sanctions.

This proposals mirror the line taken by Environment minister John Michuki, who insists that illegal settlers on the nation’s water tower shall be expelled by all means.

The Prof Fredrick Owino-led task force says the Complex has lost a quarter of its cover, totaling some 107,707 hectares representing 25 per cent of its acreage, over the last 15 years.

Baringo Central MP Gideon Moi wants the issue to be handled humanely and sensitively so as to shield the poor, who he says were the beneficiaries, from unplanned displacement.

Ruto maintains settlers can only leave if adequately compensated.

Those who own group ranches were not spared — those found encroaching on forestland were singled out for investigation and prosecution, too.

Suspicions linger

So hot is the Mau issue that even after a truce was hammered out between Raila and Rift Valley MPs last week, suspicions still linger.

The biggest challenge for Mau forests management is how to reconcile the different interests of the country and donor conservation agencies as well as those of local communities in the forest.

Ruto said: "Locals will not accept blackmail and intimidation where residents in the forests will be jettisoned."

He added: "We will resist inhuman eviction. The settlers must leave the forest but be paid or be shown alternative land to occupy."

A section of leaders accused Raila of shifting position from the deal reached with the Rift Valley leaders. Many Rift Valley MPs argue the forests are being encroached by people who have been displaced from their original habitat for various reasons.

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