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Is there more to Mau than environmental conservation?

COMMENTARY
By | December 7th 2009

By Argut Pturgo

Jackson Mwalulu’s hypothesis over Mau eviction (Daily Nation and The Standard, December 3, 2009) is just one of the many propositions over the storm that Mau has generated in the recent past. Unlike other commentators who have resorted to bashing evictees and their defenders (read Rift Valley leaders), Mwalulu introduces a political dimension to the saga.

Another question, as a variant to this facet, may be asked: Is former President Moi the real target of Mau evictions? Has he been found and cornered finally? Is it payback time for the perceived wrongs committed during his 24 years of reign? Political pundits have it that Moi was never forgiven, particularly for what happened to those who struggled for the "second" liberation of Kenya.

The above supposition is qualified by the following undisputed facts about Mau and the hubbubs. First, the Mau where evictions are taking place is just but a small fraction of the entire Mau complex and the evictees representing another smaller fraction of the forest settlers.

The water tower that is Mau is an expansive escapement, extending to the old districts of Narok, Bomet, Kericho, Nandi, Uasin Gishu, Keiyo, Koibatek and Nakuru. The much talked about 400,000 hectares are a mere leftover of what used to be an expansive indigenous forest.

Second, the Nakuru-Eldoret Road, from Salgaa trading centre all the way to Burnt Forest, traverses the watershed, the wetlands and the critical water catchment points of the Mau escapement. Along this road, on both sides, are heavy human settlements and activities. Timboroa, once quoted in geography books as the coldest region in Kenya, represents the highest and the most critical watershed point of the entire Mau Escarpment.

This, indeed, is the wing of Mau that is the source of much of the waters of rivers Kerio, Parkerra, Molo, Nzoia, Yala and Nyando. Today, Timboroa is as hot as Kisumu and her position as an important water catchment area lost.

But no one is pointing at human settlement, which, no doubt, is responsible for this sad fact.

Why are the people living in Matharu, Timboroa, Mumberes, Equator, Makutano, Maji Mazuri, Total, down to Mau Summit not evicted? Why haven’t they been criminalised for destroying water towers?

Third, it seems critics of Mau evictees and their defenders are not aware that Molo, Elburgon and Olenguruoni towns are located in the heart of another wing of Mau Complex. This is the wing that is the source of much of the waters flowing to rivers Njoro, Mara and Sondu Miriu.

Why are the people living in these towns and surrounding farms not targeted for eviction? Why they were not demonised for invading the Mau forest then?

Special species

It is an undeniable fact the excision of 25,000 hectares of forest in Western and South West Mau greatly affected the waters of river Mara and Uaso Nyiro. But it is also a fact that earlier settlements and farming activities around Mau Narok started it all. Why aren’t the rich wheat and barley farmers in Mau Narok, who include very prominent people during Kenyatta’s time, being mentioned? Why haven’t they, too, been demonised for destroying the water catchment area for Uaso Nyiro and Mara rivers? Why is nobody mentioning anything about their eviction?

Another fact that is being grossly overlooked is the timing of Mau invasion. Forest settlements and destruction did not start with the Moi regime. Towns established within Mau complex like Molo, Elburgon, Keringet, Timboroa and many others were there long before Moi became president. If it is true that at Independence in 1963 Kenya’s forest cover was 48 per cent, and that by the time he became president in 1978, the percentage stood at 2 per cent, then someone else is responsible for the destruction of forests in Kenya, including the Mau complex.

If we genuinely are serious about saving, restoring and conserving Mau, then we must look and address the problem in its entirety. Everybody must get out of the complex, otherwise rivers and lakes will continue to dry, even after the eviction of settlers in the 62,000 hectares of forest lands.

If the allocation of forest lands during Moi’s tenure finished Mau, then earlier settlers of this complex, right from colonial days, began the destruction and the only way of saving it is by getting everybody else out of it.

The writer is a commentator on social issues.

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