News 2008


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 popularity stunts.

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.

Ndung’u report

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.

Peasant dwellers

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 out first.

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.