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Explainer: What we know about the Mau Forest crisis

By Betty Njeru | September 3rd 2019 at 16:10:04 GMT +0300

The crisis at the Mau Forest complex where eviction is underway did not start today. If anything, it seems to grow worse by the year.

Evictions dating back to the year 2000 have caused sleepless nights to over 40,000 settlers.

A source knowledgeable in matters Mau tells Standard Digital that the Mau crisis started when the trust land was allocated to group ranches.

Nothing wrong with that. The real problem came about when the group ranches went beyond the cutline and occupied forest land.

It is this forest land, says our source, who prefers anonymity because he is not allowed to comment because of the nature of his duties, that was sold to third parties who are being evicted.

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Also facing eviction are those who settled there and acquired title deeds.

 The Genesis of the Mau evictions

The Maasai Mau was initially a trust land under the defunct Narok County Council.

Traditionally, the forest has been inhabited by the Ogiek. However, due to immigration from other ethnic groups, large parts of the forest area were cleared for settlement.

The forest was set up for destruction by powerful Maasai elite who were allocated thousands of acres of land through group ranches.

The Ndungu Report podcast. [Courtesy]

 It started during Kanu era.

In 2008, there was a political row over the resettlement of people in the Mau Forest. They had been allocated land during the Kanu-era in the 1980s and 1990s.

In 2004, the famous Ndungu Report listed these land allocations, terming them illegal and recommended their revocation of them.

Some evictions were done between 2004 and 2006 without a resettlement option.

In July 2008, the Kibaki regime through the then Prime Minister Raila Odinga ordered another eviction to be effected by October 2008 in order to protect the forest from destruction.

The order was opposed by several Rift Valley politicians, led by Isaac Ruto.

William Ruto, who was then Agriculture Minister proposed evictees be allocated land elsewhere.

Later, Environment Minister John Michuki would reverse the order leaving Raila with egg on the face and a heavy political liability that would cost him a huge chunk of the Rift Valley vote.

 How did settlers get there?

An aerial view of Mau Forest settlement. [Joseph Kipsang/Standard]

 Stories have been told of how scions of prominent families in Narok sold land to them in Sierra Leone and Kipchoge areas in the contested Maasai Mau Forest.

Sierra Leone got the name because of loaded soldiers back from a peace-keeping mission in that land who were buying land there.

Some of the people facing eviction sold their land so as to buy parcels in the high potential Mau where pieces were going for a song and title deeds could be acquired through crooked government machinery.

A resident displaying his title deed. [Kipsang Joseph/Standard]


Disputed title deeds

"We are always shocked and disturbed to hear that we are squatters. Before we bought the land, we did a search at the Ministry of Lands. The parcels of land we bought had title deeds," a settler is quoted as saying in a past press report.

In 2005, the government placed a caveat on all title deeds issued to claimants, saying they were irregularly issued. But in 2014, a section of politicians claimed the caveat was only to woo them to vote them in the 2017 general elections.

While some had genuine title deeds, others did not. It further emerged that those who first bought the land subdivided it and sold it to other 'outsiders' even without the title deeds.

And so the Maasai Mau Forest transfer story goes.

Opposition leader Raila Odinga (left) and the late Environment minister John Michuki. [Standard]

 Enter Michuki and Raila…

Again in 2009, the late Environment minister John Michuki insisted that squatters in the Mau Complex had to move out. "They will have to go. Leaving them there (Mau Forest) is not an option," the minister said.

The government, he added, only recognised 1,962 squatters who would be compensated for their land. It became known that the squatters had bought the forest land from other people in the belief that the transactions were genuine.

"I started dealing with the Mau issue in 2005 and for the three years, I have established that the 1,962 actually paid for the land believing that the sellers were the owners," Michuki was quoted saying. 

Cabinet ministers and Members of Parliament fought over resettlement efforts, even as President Mwai Kibaki received a report warning of declining water resources.

Eighteen Rift Valley MPs led by Cabinet ministers William Ruto, Franklin Bett and Hellen Sambili told off John Michuki over his eviction order.

The legislators demanded compensation for everybody who owned land in Mau Forest Complex.

Fresh storms swirls

A fresh storm began with then Prime Minister Raila Odinga's meeting with 22 Rift Valley MPs, who were for the relocation and compensation.

Raila would look for Sh38 billion to fund the relocation with some quarters saying the compensation would be done regardless of how they acquired the land.

During a National Climate Change Strategy launch in the same year, Michuki ordered the Kenya Forest Service to start evicting squatters from the Mau Forest, saying it was a matter of urgency.

But it never happened, thanks to the 2007 elections. Kibaki was in no hurry to lose the polls.

Michuki had to hold his horses. 

The first phase of the Mau Forest evictions. [Courtesy]

 First and second phases of Eviction

The latest phase of the Mau Forest evictions, targeting at least 60,000 families in Narok South and North kicked off on Monday.

The government is seeking to reclaim about 17,000 acres of land in an exercise that has raised political temperatures in the country.

Environment CS Keriako Tobiko ordered the land to be cleared of human settlement because it forms a crucial part of the water tower, saying the eviction was non-negotiable.

The first phase of evictions that began last year targeted about 10,000 families. They were centered in the Reiya Group Ranch while the second phase covers Nkoben, Ilmotiok and Ololunga ranches.

Others are Enokishomi, Enoosokon, Nkaroni and Sisian.

Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen (center) flanked by other Rift Valley leaders addressing the press after a meeting over Mau Forest Evictions on August 24, 2019. [Kipsang Joseph/Standard]

Political shouting match

Politicians have opposed the evictions and called for dialogue.

On Monday, Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen tweeted that evictees should stay put, as "there will be no eviction from Masai Mau Trust Land until President Uhuru speaks."

He added, "CS Tobiko who is conflicted has no moral authority to evict people against the law. We have asked Kenyans to stay put and our children to go to school like children of all other Kenyans”.

Narok Senator Ledama Ole Kina during a meeting with stakeholders at County Hall, Nairobi. [Boniface Okendo/Standard]

But leaders from the Maasai community led by Narok Senator Ledama Ole Kina seem to be fully behind the action. They see since the influx as a direct threat to their livelihood that greatly depends on the Mau.

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