News 2008

 

Selfish interests threaten Mau forest



DAILY NATION

Story by MUCHEMI WACHIRA

22.07.2008



The direct involvement of political leaders in the Mau Complex evictions stands in the way of the Government’s resolve to rid the forest of illegal settlers.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga (right seated) in discussion with Agriculture minister William Ruto (centre), Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi (left) and Chepalungu MP Isaac Ruto during the one-day stakeholders’ forum on the Mau Forest complex at the KICC last week. Photos/STEPHEN MUDIARI

Some Rift Valley MPs have termed the planned eviction of farmers as political and have urged them to resist the move.

Perhaps these leaders are pushing for this because some of them have benefited from the allocations of part of the 400,000-hectare ecosystem.

Among the leaders allocated land in the forest are Bureti MP Franklin Bett and his Kuresoi counterpart Zakayo Cheruiyot. Politicians and former senior government officials were also allocated land in the Mau Complex during the Kanu regime of retired president Daniel arap Moi.

But it is only the names of Mr Bett and Mr Cheruiyot which appear in a report prepared by a commission of inquiry into the irregular allocation of public land.

The commission, chaired by Mr Paul Ndung’u, had been appointed by President Mwai Kibaki in 2003 to investigate the illegal allocation of public land throughout the country.

The commission submitted its report, commonly referred to as the Ndung’u report, to the President in June 2004.

Names mentioned

It is in this report that the names of the two legislators are mentioned as beneficiaries although it (Ndung’u report) also adds that several other people got the forest land as reward for their loyalty to the retired president.

Other big names benefited indirectly from Mau forest land allocations through cooperative societies they founded.

Kericho Rural Multi-purpose Society, which has since changed name to Sinendet Rural Cooperative Society, is one of the biggest beneficiaries of land in the southwestern part of the Mau Complex.

Some of the officials of the society include Mr Josiah Sang, a former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Lands who retired in 1995. Mr Sang is the society’s secretary.

Its chairman is Mr Ayub Chepkwony, a former MP for Belgut in Kericho District while Kericho businessman Nehemiah Suge is its treasurer.

Former Sotik MP Anthony Kimetto is a member. He was the treasurer before Mr Chepkwony ousted him during the society’s elections.

Sinendet Rural Cooperative Society was initially set up to acquire tea estates in areas of Kericho where the climate is favourable for tea growing.

The cooperative draws its membership from ordinary farmers with the objective of helping them earn more income from tea. As indicated in the Ndung’u report, the society was allocated three parcels of land in the Kericho Station area of the Mau Forest in 1994. All the three parcels are under tea.

One of the parcels is 292.97 hectares while the other two measure 74.72 hectares and 5.14 hectares, respectively.

Although the Ndung’u report is yet to be implemented, it has recommended the revocation of the three titles issued for the parcels.

The report also made the same recommendations concerning the 10 hectares allocated to Mr Bett at Kerisoi Station in Kericho. The MP put up his Frankways Sawmills on the land in 1995.

The commission declared the MP’s land allocation illegal and recommended the revocation of its title because the area was too big for a sawmill.

Wealthy people

Mr Cheruiyot and a host of other wealthy individuals whose names have not been mentioned in the report, allegedly took over land that had been earmarked for a settlement scheme.

The land, measuring 24,109 hectares, was carved out of the south-western part of the Mau Forest.

It had been excised to establish the Saino, Ndoinet, Tinet and Kiptagich Settlement Schemes. Some landless people, the Ndung’u report says, were to be settled on the schemes.

However, the report does not give the details on the circumstances under which Mr Cheruiyot and other wealthy people came to own the land. By then Mr Cheruiyot was the permanent secretary in the Internal Security ministry.

After acquiring the land, the report says, the Kuresoi MP built a palatial home in the area.

The report has also named civic authorities, including the Bomet County Council and Elburgon Urban Council as other beneficiaries of the Mau Complex land.

Evoke emotions

And like the other allotments, it has recommendedthe revocation of titles issued to the two local authorities.

Elburgon Urban Council was given 65.16 hectares of the forest in 1983 to extend the Elburgon township.

The land, which is in Nakuru District, has not been developed and is still under forest cover, according to the report.

Bomet County Council was allocated 102.179 hectares in Chepalungu/Olenguruone areas of the forest to establish a tea estate in 1994.

From the foregoing, it is obvious that the Mau Complex issue will always evoke emotions whenever it is mentioned.

Besides protecting their own interests, Rift Valley politicians are also defending their people who are raking in profits from their cooperative society that owns tea plantations in the forest.

When Prime Minister Raila Odinga convened a stakeholders’ meeting last week, which resolved that those living in the Mau Complex should vacate before the end of October, 10 MPs from the region could not hide their fury.

The MPs — some of who had attended the meeting at KICC in Nairobi — called a news conference at Parliament Buildings the following day and passionately rejected the Government’s plan to flush out people.

Led by Chepalungu MP Isaac Ruto, the legislators told farmers in the forest to defy Mr Odinga’s directive.

They termed the directive as a wider plan to punish the Kalenjin community.

However, President Kibaki has since echoed the PM’s directive, saying that those who have settled in Mau Forest have to leave.

Eldoret MP William Ruto, who is also the minister for Agriculture, at the weekend led another group of MPs in airing their views on the Mau issue. They said that the Government must first identify alternative land for the farmers occupying the forest before evicting them.

The Government, on its part, had said that it would only resettle 1,960 people who have been issued with title deeds for the land.

To this end, Mr Odinga was Monday expected to launch a taskforce to help resolve the explosive Mau forest dispute that is threatening to get out of hand.

Water catchment

Human settlement in Mau ecosystem, which is the biggest water catchment area in the country, started about 15 years ago.

This settlement was done under the guise of assisting minority communities like the Ogiek as well as squatters and other landless people.

But actually, the Ndung’u report says, the objective of the then government was to allocate forest land to reward influential political personalities in the former Kanu regime.

“Many of these allottees got land far in excess of what would be recommended for an ordinary settlement scheme,” the report says in part.

And this has seen to the destruction of 25 per cent of the Mau Complex, which is the lifeline for millions of people in the country as 12 major rivers have their source in the forest.

Last week, the inauguration of the Sondu-Miriu hydro power project in Nyanza Province had to be called off owing to the reduced water levels of a river originating from Mau forest.

Additional reporting by Sollo Kiragu

 

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