The name George Natembeya has become synonymous with Mau Forest reclamation and conservation.
Within a few months of his posting to the area, the Narok County Commissioner has evicted forest settlers to pave way for conservation with a gusto that has baffled friend and foe in equal measure.
He has won accolades from conservation groups and enemies from the political class, especially those representing evicted communities.
And even as politicians call for his head, Natembeya has taken the bull by its horns and says he is ready to suffer the consequences.
Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga ‘burnt his fingers’ attempting to clear settlements to conserve and manage Mau Forest. Raila’s attempts cost him the support of the Kalenjin in the 2013 General Election.
But Natembeya has succeeded where others failed. He has driven settlers out of the Maasai Mau forest, a section of the 427,000 hectare complex in evictions that began almost two months ago.
But who is he?
Natembeya has risen through the ranks to become a county commissioner. He came to the limelight when he served former Internal Security Minister John Michuki as his personal assistant.
After winning the former powerful minister’s trust, he was promoted to a District Commissioner in Michuki’s Murang’a backyard where he took over from Kenneth Lusaka, now the Senate Speaker.
His main task in Murang’a was to deal with the Mungiki menace. A chief had been killed and Michuki’s home raided by suspected Mungiki adherents shortly before Natembeya was posted there.
In 2016, he was promoted to the position of County Commissioner and posted to Isiolo before being moved to Narok.
In Isiolo, he once clashed with the county government over the manner in which Isiolo Referral Hospital was being managed following deaths of several women during delivery.
Now, he is waging war against settlers who have been eating away one of Kenya’s most important water towers, and vows not to rest until Mau is saved from what he calls imminent depletion.
Natembeya says the controversial cutline demarcating settlement areas and the forest has been used to aid encroachment.
“The cutline only demarcates Olpusimoru Forest Reserve and Maasai Mau. If people say it demarcates boundaries between settlement areas and the forest, then there is no forest to talk about,” he says. The remaining phases of the eviction targeting settlements like Sierra Leone and Sasumuani section of the 46,000 hectare forest will soon be executed, he says.
Reports say more than 40,000 settlers will be affected.
“The government is putting everything in place to ensure it is carried out with precision and minimal destruction,” he says.
He says settlers in Sierra Leone are responding well to the government’s appeal for them to return title deeds for their parcels of land.
“Most of them are fake. Fake in the sense that the area was not declared an adjudication area before land was allocated,” he says.
The no-nonsense Natembeya, who politicians opposed to the eviction prefer to address whenever they visit evictees to dish out money and foodstuffs rather than facing him in his office, says no amount of intimidation will force the government to abandon its mission to reclaim and save the forest. Ledama Olekina, the local senator, says Natembeya is an asset to those who love conservation.
The senator says some provincial administrators posted to Narok are beneficiaries of forest destruction.
“Some DCs and county commissioners have either been allocated land in the forest or have been beneficiaries of logging and charcoal burning. Natembeya is a rare one,” he says.
Jackson Kamoe, the chairman of Mau Conservation Trust, says it is the first time since the establishment of Provincial Administration that conservation agencies are reading from the same script with the government.