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Mau Forest restoration chocking under endless court battles

An Aerial view of Maasai Mau Forest on November 1, 2019. [Kipsang Joseph, Standard]

The fate of Mau Forest, Kenya’s largest water tower lies in the decision of both local and regional courts. Settlers and the Government have been involved in unending legal battles over settlement in the vital water tower.

On January 15, 2020, the United Kingdom Government declared that the water tower had been admitted to the Queens Commonwealth Canopy. This meant that the water tower was to be part of the highly conserved resource.
While the government fights to conserve the tower, settlers have been fighting to claim the forest land as their ancestral heritage and home.

On November 1, 2019, the government launched a 10 million trees exercise to rehabilitate the Maasai Mau water tower. Already, 30 kilometers of the forest have been fenced off- from Sierra Leone to the Nkareta area with a number of evictions have been conducted since 2008. In 2017 and 2019, evictions were also conducted.

However, in July 2020, locals moved to court and managed to stop a scheduled eviction in the Eastern part of the forest after obtaining orders from the High Court in Nakuru.
At least, seven cases have been filed in local and regional courts with the seventh at the African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights in Arusha.

A case filed by settlers in the Eastern Mau is the latest to be filed in the Environment and Lands Court in Nakuru. In the case filed in November 2020, the settlers are challenging the legality of the multi-agency established in September to resettle people in the Eastern Mau Complex.

The multi-agency team has been conducting an audit, adjudication and survey and placing beacons on the land in parts of Marioshoni, Nessuit, Bararget, Likia, Terer and Sururu.

The process has since been stopped by the court.
Nakuru County Assembly Deputy Speaker Samuel Tonui filed the suit on behalf of the over 50, 000 settlers occupying 35, 301-hectare land, he described as a settlement scheme.
Tonui sought orders to bar the government from evicting the locals. He said the evictions of people in Nessuit, Marioshoni, Sururu, Lilia, Terit and Sigotik settlement schemes contravened the law.

He said a survey was conducted in 1997, beacons placed and a cut-line established. The people facing eviction, he added, have valid title deeds issued by the government in 1997, 2005 and in 2013.

The government had on June 28, 2020, started an operation to stop all illegal human activities in forests forming the Eastern side of the Mau Forest Complex. Kenya Forest Service then said the operation was intended to reclaim Logoman, Sururu, Likia, Marioshoni, Nessuit, Baraget and Olposimoru forests.

The government has since denied claims the land was excised and that the area was gazetted as forest in 1932 and has never been degazetted. The state claims if title deeds were issued, then they are irregular since the land had not been degazetted.

The Ogiek community, an interested party in the case, claim they had won a court case against the government concerning their rights to their ancestral land in Mau forest rendered by the African Court on Human and People’s Rights and must be involved in the process of implementing the judgment.

Martin Lele, the Ogiek Council of Elders Secretary, who testified in court this week, said they were not happy following the revelation that the government was going to allocate each of the Eastern Mau residents a five-acre land, adding that they questioned the criteria used. 

On March 17, 2014, the Environment and Lands Court in Nairobi issued orders that the eviction of the people in Marioshioni Location, Elburgon Division and Nessuit Location, Njoro Division, Nakuru in the Mau Forest Complex contravened their rights.

The orders were issued following a suit filed by Joseph Letuya, Towett and 21 others in 2012. The 22 had sued the provincial commissioner, Rift Valley, the Province Forester and Director of Forestry.
Court records indicate that the suit was commenced by way of an originating summons dated June 25, 1997, filed by the 22, who are representatives of members of the Ogiek community living in East Mau Forest.

Justice Pauline Nyamweya after hearing of the case directed the National Land Commission to within one year of the date of the judgment, identify and open a register of members of the Ogiek community in consultation with their elders to identify land for settlement.

Another case that was filed by Kericho Governor Professor Paul Chepkwony and other locals of Maasai Mau Forest in 2017 is still pending in court.
In Nakuru, a three-judge bench was also instituted to hear a case by over 500 Maasai Mau Forest evictees against the Government. The three-judge bench will deliver its judgment on June 9, 2022.