The Mau complex: Peasants,
propaganda and fraud
By Gakuu Mathenge
The Mau Complex has proved to be a political dynamite that cannot
be diffused by the fainthearted or by politicians out for
A security officer keeps vigil
at Mau forest. Photo: John Lectus/Standard
It has been three years now
since the Mau question entered the national discourse, but
it is yet to be settled. Like other ghosts from past
corruption, it has claimed its fair share of casualties, and
could claim more.
When President Kibaki attempted it first in 2004, he burned
his fingers at the Referendum a year later, after his ODM
opponents seized debate on Mau evictions and rallied the
Rift Valley residents against the sinking
government-supported draft constitution.
The momentum built during the
Referendum campaigns was also deployed against his
re-election campaigns last year, during which the Rift
Valley, especially the Kalenjin block.
But the two political contests have obscured the dynamics at play
by muddying the waters. According to the Ndung’u report of inquiry
into illegal land allocations of the past, Mau Complex has two
categories of squatters. The first group includes genuine
squatters, who comprise ordinary ‘wananchi’ and landless peasants,
whose only need for a forest plot was a decent place to call home.
This group is the majority but its members, mostly from the
Kipsigis community, only got small plots, mainly 2.5ha, when the
Kanu government decided to open up the forest for settlement
schemes in the 90s.
The second group is that of political squatters: Former
powerbrokers and Cabinet ministers in the Kanu regime, civil
service fat cats, including senior judicial and security bigwigs,
who used the squatter settlement both to justify forest excision,
and to secure themselves expansive swathes of forest.
For instance, the Ndung’u report cites the excision of 24,109ha
from Western Mau, purportedly for establishment of Saino, Ndoinet,
Tinet and Kiptagich Settlement Schemes.
“Although the area is proposed for settling the landless, it is
already taken up by wealthy individuals such as the former
Permanent Secretary in charge of Internal Security, Mr Zakayo
Cheruiyot, who has constructed a palatial home on part of the
land”, the report says.
Cheruiyot is the current Kuresoi MP, elected on an ODM ticket last
year. The report adds: “Another interesting finding with regard to
these settlements is that most allottees share the same postal
addresses in Nairobi, Kabarnet, Burnt Forest, Eldama Ravine,
Marigta and Njoro.”
In the 2004 evictions, spear-headed by then Lands Minister Amos
Kimunya, Kibaki’s administration shot itself on the foot and
created a political monster on two fronts:
First, by descending on peasant forest dwellers as if they were an
invading alien army, instead of employing a systemic and humane
approach that should have included compensation packages. The
administration created deep resentment amongst thousands of
subsistence villagers, who had been settled by a legitimate
government and issued with title deeds.
Second, the political naivety of the first Kibaki Cabinet, at the
time, was such that while they targeted the small holders, they
neglected to negotiate, or secure the support of the former Kanu
power barons. This group owns large tracts, and wielded
considerable influence among the villagers, not to mention
political muscle, in Parliament through Kanu.
When they flexed this muscle, funding the Orange campaigns,
joining the Liberal Democratic Party and staging an intense
anti-Banana campaign, it was Kibaki who was left with a bloody
nose, and taught a lesson about treading softly on certain
interests. When he launched the Mau consultation talks at the Unep
headquarters in Gigiri, last month, Prime Minister Raila Odinga
said leadership means leading from the front, which many took to
mean he fully appreciated difficult decisions have to be made if
progress was to be achieved.
Chepalungu MP Isaac Ruto has stubbornly opposed the manner in
which the government intends to go about the Mau process, but has
not been bold enough to say his real fear is the drive by the
government — under pressure from local and international
environmental interests — to lean too heavily on the small 2.5
acre person, and leave the big fish intact.
Leading from front may mean buying the big shots out, cutting
deals with them, as well as setting a good example and leading the
way out of the Mau Complex. It may also simply mean kicking them
If the Grand Coalition Cabinet diffuses the Mau question, it might
set an exemplary precedent on how to approach other equally
emotive and volatile ghosts of the past that have defied expensive
investigations, courts, force and political bullying, but which
still need to be resolved if progress is to be achieved.