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Court ruling puts fate of Mau water tower on the balance

RIFT VALLEY
By Caroline Chebet | July 6th 2020
Residents look on as Kenya Forest Service officers (KFS) inspect arrows and a bow recovered from one of the illegal settlers at Marioshoni Forest in the Eastern Mau Forest Complex during an operation to flash out illegal settlers in the forest on June 3, 2020. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

Behind the serenity of the 57,000-hectare Eastern Mau Forest Complex lies a delicate balance between a court ruling and conservation of the ecosystem.

The lush green complex that comprises Marioshioni, Kiptunga, Bararget, Logoman, Likia, Sururu and Nessuit forests is turning into vast chunks of bare land with estimated over 28,000 hectares completely degraded.

Recent encroachment into the forest for farming and residential activities, the Kenya Forest Service says, is a delicate process as a court ruling stands in between.

The Ogiek community living within the forest is banking on implementation of an African Court of Human rights case to solve their long-standing tussle with the government over forest land. 

But there is also the matter of a yet-to-be released task force report meant to give way forward on the issue.

“The biggest challenge is striking a balance between conservation of the forest and the court ruling. We are still waiting for the outcome of task force report. However, some people are now using the court order to encroach deeper into the forest,” Nakuru County Ecosystem Conservator Francis Misonge said.

A visit to the vast forest by The Standard team reveals tens of structures deep in the forest. While some of the houses were recently destroyed by KFS officers, others are being rebuilt while people are busy on their farms. Several fences have also been put up.

It is not strange to spot glittering iron sheet roofs. These homesteads are vacated during the day but a few belongings are stuffed into bags and stashed in the fences and farms.

The Ogiek community blames the government for dragging its feet to implement the ruling of the African court three years after it ruled in their favour.

Daniel Kobey, Ogiek People Development Programme Executive Director, says the 52,000 members are suffering as a result of more evictions due to delay in implementing the ruling.

“The delay is worrying and we need a roadmap for implementation so that our people will not continue suffering. People are still being evicted from their homes by authorities who tell them they are not aware of any court ruling,” he said.

The African Court, in its judgement dated May 26, 2017, found that the community was illegally evicted from their ancestral land in the water catchment tower and that their rights were violated.

But there appears to be another problem creeping in, that could further complicate matters.

“We have just found out that people from as far as Nyandarua and Meru are leasing forest land from the Ogiek who are hiring them an acre at Sh10,000 a year,” Misonge said.

The government set up a taskforce in November 2017 whose mandate included making recommendations on implementation and enhancing participation of indigenous communities. The term lapsed on October, 24, 2018, and a new task force set up. The team was to table the report by January 2020.

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