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An aerial view of a section of Mau Forest. [Jacob Otieno/Standard]
More than 1,000 individuals have been named as the original beneficiaries of land allocations in Mau Forest that authorities describe as the genesis of the long-running crisis.

Some of the 1,029 individuals described as “original landowners” are said to have invaded the protected water tower, hived off about 14,000 hectares and sold the parcels to at least 6,965 unsuspecting locals.

The land was sold for as little as Sh4,000 while other parcels were gifted away. Some beneficiaries also got land in the forest in exchange for a goat.

Churches and schools are also among the beneficiaries of the encroachment that has become a subject of multiple task forces and fodder for the political class in the past three decades.

SEE ALSO: Deliberate planning should save our water towers, livelihoods

The illegal division and sale of forest land by well-connected individuals started as early as 1981 and continued until 2009 under the watch of successive governments.

Sale agreements

The individuals colluded with senior State officials and pocketed billions of shillings from buyers in exchange for sale agreements and title deeds that have been declared illegal and invalid by the Government.

Some of the people listed in a document tabled in Parliament by the Environment ministry are directors of registered ranches who acquired hectares of land in the forest.

Olechukiche Group is listed as having 767 hectares of land in the forest, Kitilai ole Ntutu (580 hectares), Lekishon Chepukel and Olonana K (202 hectares), Kitilai ole Ntutu-listed twice (142 hectares) and Lolkeri ole Kiok (88 hectares).

SEE ALSO: Multi-agency team to re-mark Mau borders

Others are Evan Makori and Leonard Ogeto (81 hectares), Tunai ole Lumulee (73 hectares), Rikana ole Setek (70 hecatres), Lolkeri ole Kiok-listed twice (62 hectares) and Leonard Lemotowuan (62 hectares).

For buyers, Christmas had come early.

William Kilele bought 0.1 acres for Sh4,000 in 2004 while Richard Kipkosgei acquired 0.125 acres for the same amount in 2007.

Paul Maina parted with a goat and acquired 0.5 acres in  2004 while Torongoi Kilele was gifted the same acreage.

Environment Cabinet Secretary Keriako Tobiko said the encroachers should be made to pay restoration costs.

SEE ALSO: Threats, politics and evictions: Who will save East Africa’s most important forest?

“Based on the level of destruction that has been caused to the delicate ecosystem through the cutting [down] of trees and cultivation for personal benefits, these people should be required to pay for the restoration instead of them asking for compensation,” Mr Tobiko said.

Claim innocence

The CS said no buyer should claim innocence because “there is no person living in Kenya who is not aware of the controversial issues surrounding Mau Forest Complex”.

Director of Criminal Investigations George Kinoti has completed investigations that should see those who encroached on the forest charged with criminal responsibility.

“Criminal investigations have been done by the Director of Criminal Investigations. The files relating to these criminalities are now with the Director of Public Prosecutions who will soon make a decision,” said Tobiko.

He continued: “The ballooning into the forest would not have occurred without the participation of ranch and Government officials. The fact that the documents were signed by Government officials does not make an illegal document legal.”

Tobiko described those involved in the encroachment as “big fish”, stating that they were the same people behind the push to compensate the affected families.

The Cabinet Secretary also advised individuals who purchased land in the forest to provide particulars of the individuals who sold them the land for legal action to be taken.

Tobiko said there is no turning back on the evictions that will, however, be done over three months to allow candidates in 15 schools within the forest sit their national exams.

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