Rift Valley MPs change tack on the Mau Forest evictions

Law Society of Kenya council member Kipkoech Ngetich (right) flanked by Lawyer Steve Biko (left) and other Nakuru-based lawyers address reporters in Nakuru on July 24, 2018. They supported the move by the government to conserve Mau Forest but said the evictions should be done on humane manner. [Photo:Kipsang Joseph/Standard]

Jubilee lawmakers have resolved to wait for a private team to investigate the issues raised about the Mau Forest evictions.

Rift Valley legislators meeting in Nairobi on Tuesday night were told that the evictions had been put on hold. This was understood to be for the purpose of giving leaders and the State time to come up with a less controversial solution to an issue that has caused tension between two communities in the region.

The Rift Valley MPs caucus chairman, Kipchumba Murkomen, assured members that the Government had agreed to have the matter handled amicably.

In an apparent change of heart, Nandi Senator Kiprotich Cherargei said the leaders had agreed to support the restoration of the Mau water tower, but wanted the eviction of those living in forest zones to be conducted in a humane way.

“We insisted that the matter of Mau forest must be resolved completely and the land issue concluded so that we can avoid the cyclic nature that it has always taken,” said Mr Cherargei.

The lawmaker said Mr Murkomen, the Senate Majority Leader, had assured the caucus that the Mau forest eviction had been resolved.

But just hours after the Tuesday night meeting, Kericho Governor Paul Chepkwony was in court to stop the evictions, terming the manner in which the operation was conducted as unlawful.

Prof Chepkwony, through lawyer Peter Wanyama, listed 20 issues to back his claim in a case filed under a certificate of urgency. 

The court refused to stop the evictions, with Justice Mohammed Kullow calling for an inter partes hearing on August 6.

In his petition, the governor accused the Government of infringing human and property rights.

Chepkwony cited the affected group ranches as Reiyo, Enakishomi, Sisiyan, Enoosokon and Nkaroni.

“The eviction is being done in the most inhumane manner. The security officers burn houses, livestock, and beat up the property owners in a brazen display of impunity and high-handedness. It is scorched-earth eviction,” reads the petition.

The governor also accused State agencies of evicting people who were kilometres away from the forest.

The ministries of Lands, Interior, Urban Development, the Kenya Wildlife Service, the Kenya Forest Service, the Attorney General and Narok County Commissioner George Natembeya were named as respondents.

He termed the evictions as politically motivated, claiming that senior Government officials and politicians wanted to take over the ranches.

Yesterday MPs Hilary Koskey (Kipkelion East), Caleb Kositany (Soy) and William Chepkut (Ainabkoi) confirmed that the caucus had reached an agreement to let the Government handle the matter without interference.

The lawmakers said some pronouncements by some leaders had caused unnecessary tension. The MPs resolved to help the Government evict people in a humane way.

“We agreed that all of us should desist from talking carelessly about the Mau issue, which is fast being reduced to a contest between members of (two communities),” said Mr Koskey.

“We do support that those who have encroached beyond the cutline be removed. We will talk to our people. But there is also a need to ensure that the rights of those who were settled legally on the land be safeguarded,” said Mr Kositany.

The issue of Mau Forest has been a thorny one and previous evictions have seen the matter take political tangents. In the 2013 elections, the removal of the residents from the forest proved to be the political bane for former Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who was blamed for it.

At the forum that lasted about four hours, some lawmakers are understood to have rebuked Murkomen, also the senator for Elgeyo Marakwet, and his Kericho counterpart, Aaron Cheruiyot, for allegedly jeopardising the relationship between President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto.

Cherangany MP Joshua Kutuny was said to have lashed out at the two legislators, accusing them of being lone-rangers and stirring up controversy by making statements that have been misconstrued as the stand of the community.

Murkomen earlier this week came under fire from his colleagues after he dragged the name of President Kenyatta and Mr Raila into the Mau evictions. Mr Cheruiyot defended Murkomen, hitting out at Jubilee Secretary General Raphael Tuju, who had insisted that the Mau evictions would continue.

It is understood that the two were told that they would be on their own if they continued to make divisive statements.

“We told Murkomen that we will not allow him to destroy the chances of DP Ruto ascending to the presidency in 2022 through his careless remarks,” said an MP who requested anonymity.

This is the second time the MPs are issuing such a warning to the Elgeyo Marakwet senator to check his utterances. Mr Ruto came to his aid after legislators threatened to oust him as the caucus chairman and Senate Majority Leader.

Some Rift Valley legislators did not attend the meeting, claiming there were more pressing issues affecting the electorate in the region.

Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter and his Moiben counterpart, Silas Tiren, dismissed the meeting and said pertinent issues such as non-payment of maize farmers and underfunding of the agriculture sector had been ignored, yet the region heavily depended on farming.

“I did not attend the meeting. I have stayed away from such meetings since the 11th Parliament because of the sycophancy among some leaders,” said Mr Keter.

Mr Tiren said there were correct channels to address the eviction issue without sparking tensions.