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Reprieve for 45,000 Mau Forest settlers as court halts evictions

By Julius Chepkwony | July 21st 2020

[From left] Lawyer Kipkoech Ngetich, Lawyer Joshua Terer, Nakuru County Assembly Deputy Speaker Samuel Tonui and Renny Langat at Nakuru Law Courts on July 16, 2020, after filing a petition to stop the ongoing Mau Forest Evictions in Marioshoni. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The Environment and Lands Court in Nakuru has issued orders barring the government from evicting people from the Eastern Mau Complex.

Justice John Mutungi issued the orders following a petition filed by Nessuit Ward Member of County Assembly Samuel Tonui.

Tonui, who is also the Deputy Speaker at the Nakuru County Assembly, went to court under a certificate of urgency, to sue Kenya Forest Service, Cabinet Secretary Ministry of Environment and Forestry Keriako Tobiko and the Rift Valley Regional Commissioner George Natembeya.

The Law Society of Kenya was named as interested party in the case.

Tonui through lawyer Kipkoech Ng'etich and Renny Langat, said Tobiko and Natembeya are coordinating an egregious operation to annihilate the residents of Nessuit, Marioshoni, Sururu, Lilia, Terit and Sigotik settlement schemes having commenced forceful evictions.

The exercise as per the documents filed in court began on June 28, 2020, and a multi-agency operation undertaken by KFS officers in conjunction with officers from National Police Service.

"The said officers have torched and destroyed property worth millions of shillings on a disguise that the operation is intended to stop all illegal human activities and from government forests which form the Eastern side of Mau Forest Complex," read the petition in part.

Tonui noted that vide Gazette Notice No. 889 dated January 30, 2001, and published on February 16, 2001, the Government through the then Minister of Environment altered the boundary of the Eastern Mau Forest by excising an area of land approximately 35,301.01 hectares. This led to the creation of the now Nessuit, Marioshoni, Sururu, Lilia, Terit and Sigotik settlement schemes.

He said a survey was conducted in 1997 and beacons placed and cutline established.

"There is a real live and serious threat to security, peace and stability of the area of the forceful evictions, malicious destruction of property and alienation of private owners’ property rights illegally and unlawfully proceeds,” read the suit.

The manner in which the eviction is being executed according to the MCA is inhumane.

He said the over 45,000 locals being evicted have valid title deeds issued by the Government in the years 1997, 2005 and in 2013.

Tonui sought orders directing KFS, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry and the Regional Commissioner be barred from interfering with the quiet and peaceful enjoyment of property rights of the residents in the area.

Justice Mutungi having perused the Notice of Motion dated July 16, 2020, together with the petition said he was persuaded that it raises weighty and valid constitutional issues.

"I am persuaded the petition raises weighty and valid constitutional issues, whether or not the residents right to property are likely to be violated if the evictions are carried on and whether or not the forest land eventually allocated to some residents was lawful degazetted and excised," read part of the orders of the court.

The judge further noted that some of the residents hold titles dating back to 1991 and there is need to establish their validity.

He noted that rendering people homeless during the Covid-19 period could be catastrophic.

"Having regard to the issues and the implications that go with evictions where a multitude of persons may be rendered homeless and that could be particularly catastrophic during this period of Covid-19 pandemic and I am persuaded to grant conservatory order pending hearing and determination of Notice of Motion," stated Justice Mutungi.

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