News 2008


Leaders not sincere on Mau saga

Published on 31/07/2008

By Kipkirui K’Telwa

The Mau forest saga does not appear to end soon, what with ‘hundreds of people crossing rivers and boundaries to reach the outlawed settlement’.

The impending eviction is a political mirage. After all, land matters and politics are intertwined such that proper reasoning and decisions are never arrived at. Rift Valley politicians, in a bid to remain relevant, have vowed to oppose any evictions unless the government finds an agreeable alternative land. This is an impossible suggestion.

Many people accuse politicians of pretending to be voices for the people yet they have no vision or plans for their people.

And going by the charged political atmosphere, the Prime Minister Raila Odinga too, might be forced to reverse his decision that Mau forest settlers be removed. And he has done it more than once. After all, he has an election to face in 2012. I do not think he can allow the forest to stand between him and State House. Neither former President Moi nor President Kibaki showed any desire to sacrifice their political power at the forest.

In his first term in office, President Kibaki, through his then Lands minister Amos Kimunya, nullified over 10,000 land title deeds terming them "mere pieces of paper".

In the run up to last year’s elections, Kibaki reversed the eviction orders with the aim of winning the over 700,000 voters from the Kipsigis community, who surround the Mau forest. And despite being allowed to go back to their farms, they still rejected Kibaki at the ballot box.

To resolve the issue, the government needs to immediately identify alternative settlement for those who will be affected then move in fast to reforest the Mau.

But finding agreeable alternative land is tricky. Even Heritage minister William ole Ntimama doesn’t see the need for alternative land since those evicted in Aberdares, Mt Kenya and elsewhere were not given land.

To politicians, families are voters and they have more to lose in case the settlers are moved.

As UNEP cries over environmental catastrophe, local leaders are playing political tactics just to sound like they are protecting people’s interests. This region is inhabited exclusively and entirely by Kipsigis and Masaai; settled farmers and pastoralists. The economic practices depend on predictable weather conditions. They should know more about water catchment areas.

A number of politicians defending the settlers are said to have themselves grabbed land meant for the poor.

But all is not lost. The government can repossess all the grabbed land from the ruling elite and re-distribute it to the poor. Land tenure system should be streamlined. Use of land should be redefined. This would release a lot of idle land for either farming or residential development.