News 2008


Proceed cautiously on Mau crisis

Written by Ibrahim Mwathane

July 28, 2008

Recently, a gathering of stakeholders sat in KICC and drew resolutions on Mau Forest.

As debate raged and the resolutions were sealed, the poor of Mau were busy going about their business, perhaps oblivious of the gravity of the KICC meeting. It was decided that they must move out by October this year.

Soon after, Members of Parliament from the Kalenjin Diaspora called a press conference to announce that they would not honour the resolutions, complicating matters.

Institutional reforms

Since all are allied to ODM, I suspect this stance worries Prime Minister Raila, who oversaw the discussions. This did not surprise me though. Indeed, issues at Mau can get worse and need very careful handling.

Recently, I argued that the three pillars of Vision 2030 will not be successfully realised without stability in land ownership through suitable rules and institutional reforms as proposed in the draft national land policy. In illustrating the political pillar, I used the Mau issue.

A fortnight later, Mau is in the air. And, if not well handled, its political ramifications will last to affect the 2012 presidential elections. Sadly, it’s poor Kenyans who suffer in all this and it is important to bring out the issues.

During the KICC forum Lands Permanent Secretary Dorothy Angote, analysed the issues well, indicating that if Kenya had a national land policy, the Mau disappointment would never have been.

Analysis of forestland reserves in 1962 show that just before our independence, three per cent of Kenya’s 582, 646 square kilometres of territorial land was under a closed canopy of gazetted forests. This now stands below 1.7 per cent, as opposed to the internationally recommended 10 per cent, having been progressively allocated for human settlements.

Records in the forest department and the Department of Settlement also show that many settlement schemes in Kiambu, Nyeri and Nyandarua Districts of Central Province stand on former forest land.

In the Rift Valley, schemes in Likia, Nandi, Kapsabet, Londiani, Marmanet and Tinderet among many others have replaced forest land. Ironically, even the United Nations offices at Gigiri in Nairobi stand on former forest reserve.

Forest excisions were routine until we touched Mau! Now we have a major environmental crisis and should learn our lessons. But today’s politics complicates the search for solutions. The Kalenjin Diaspora politicians may want to exploit the issue to secede from ODM, making it possible to field one of their own for president in 2012. We must therefore seek pre-emptive solutions.

Firstly, like the Lands Permanent Secretary said, the issue underscores the urgent need for a national land policy. Then we must realise that the Mau settlers are largely innocent. They are mere pawns in a wider web of policy mistakes and regional political schemes.

Do you know who is responsible? Simple rural Kenyans peacefully settled by the provincial administration and the Ministry of Lands and subsequently given titles; never mind that one Minister for Lands would in later years call such titles “mere pieces of paper”!

Inflammatory politics

To successfully resolve the matter, we must bear in mind their innocence, identify, plan and demarcate alternative land on which to settle them.

I am for instance thinking of the Agricultural Development Corporation farms identified to have been irregularly allocated in the Ndung’u report! Then there are some of the large scale land owners willing to sell to government.

This may take a little longer but is much better than proceeding with solutions that inflame and play into regional politics. Only such a win-win solution would help.