Conservation of Mau Forest is a non-negotiable issue
By Jacktone Ambuka | May 5th 2015
Kenya: The illegal occupation of Mau Forest in the Rift Valley and how eviction should be done is one of the hot button issues of our time. Politicians address it for convenience purposes depending on their political interests.
There has never been collective seriousness in solving this problem. Yet, scientific evidence confirms that deforestation activates environmental challenges that will catch up with us sooner than later.
Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga came close to completing the puzzle but opposing political interests overpowered his attempts. In fact, it is highly likely that Mau Forest will come up in 2017 general election as a campaign issue for politicians to glean political mileage.
However, what's more concerning is that instead of acknowledging that degradation of this critical Forest is a serious environmental challenge of our generation that requires urgent intervention to assuage impending environmental catastrophe, our leaders pander to self interests.
According to Ndung'u Land Report, prominent government officials in previous administrations and in the ruling Jubilee administration-are associated with big parcels of land in Mau Forest. That alone, presents conundrum to restorative and conservation efforts.
Yet, the importance of Mau Forest cannot be gainsaid. Covering an area of 273,300 hectares, Mau Forest is the largest water catchment area in Kenya. It is also one of the largest indigenous Forest complexes in East Africa. Several rivers including Ewaso Ng'iro, Sondu, Mara and Njoro flow from it and feed Lake Nakuru and Lake Victoria.
Its destruction may seem inconsequential to shortsighted perspectives. But long term consequences will be devastating to human beings and the entire ecosystem.
Although Jubilee administration has started fresh evacuation, which is a good start in the process of restoring and conserving the forest-its efforts are bound to hit the wall. Rift Valley lawmakers seem opposed to it.
Furthermore, Deputy President William Ruto is opposed to forceful evacuation. Yet, he is not offering feasible and enforceable evacuation strategy.
In my opinion, President Uhuru Kenyatta and DP Willian Ruto lack moral authority to order an evacuation they opposed from the start.
Instead of supporting a humane and coordinated evacuation, Uhuru and Ruto were perceived to be standing with illegal settlers while promising protection upon assuming offices.
Nonetheless, evacuation must be done to protect Mau Forest. Professor Judi Wakhungu, Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Natural Resources should take audacious steps towards restoring and protecting Mau Forest.
The CS and the government can adopt some or all of the following approaches I'm suggesting as ways of restoring Mau Forest.
First approach is non-conditional compensation to all settlers. The essence of this approach mirrors restorative justice in its administration. It acknowledges that although wrongs were committed, imposing stringent legal measures to right the wrongs will injure communal coexistence and tear the fabric of the nation. To turn a new page and start a fresh, the government may use taxpayers money to "buy out" people occupying Mau Forest.
Second approach is an act of parliament which should be enacted to provide a legal frame work within which all "genuine" title deeds that were acquired fraudulently will be withdrawn and rendered null and void. Thereafter, mandatory but humane eviction can be enforced without fear of legal consequences against the state.
The third approach is selective compensation and/or resettlement whereby beneficiaries of the compensation scheme will be members of the Ogiek community who claims traditional ownership of Mau Forest. Other illegal occupiers will face forceful eviction on grounds of illegal encroachment.
Jacktone Ambuka, is a Kenyan Living And Working In Philadelphia. Email: [email protected]
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