News 2008


Squatters ordered out of Mau

NATION - Nairobi


16. July 2008

Thousands of squatters living in Mau Forest have been ordered to vacate by October as part of measures by the Government to restore Kenya’s biggest water catchment area.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga Tuesday led 10 Cabinet ministers and a host of MPs at arriving at the decision, which drew sharp divisions among South Rift leaders and threatened to split his bedrock of support in a region that voted for him almost to a man during last year’s General Election.

Bitter words

Chepalungu MP Isaac Ruto, who is leading Kipsigis MPs opposed to the evictions, exchanged bitter words with Narok South’s Nkoindila ole Lankas, prompting Mr Odinga to intervene to restore order at the stakeholders forum.

And after Forestry and Wildlife PS Kombo Mwero read the resolutions of the meeting and minister Noah Wekesa asked for a seconder, Mr Ruto interjected and rejected them, saying that they were not discussed at the forum.

However, Mr Odinga intervened again, saying that a taskforce will be formed to, among other things, work with local communities in addressing the Mau problems. Mr Odinga said that two Maasai and Kipsigis MPs will also sit at the committee.

The committee will demarcate and fence the 400,000-hectare Mau Complex, which is the source of 12 rivers and a lifeline for millions of people.

“The committee will also mobilise resources to restore the complex,” Mr Mwero said.

It will further establish a special court to prosecute those found involving in irregularities at the forest.

The forum resolved that only 1,962 people with title deeds will be resettled.

A joint enforcement structure involving the police, Kenya Forest Guards, Kenya Wildlife Service and local authorities will man the forest and apprehend illegal loggers and charcoal dealers.

Tuesday’s forum also rekindled differences between the Maasai and Kipsigis leaders with the former supporting the evictions and the latter have opposing them.

Mr Lankas, who spoke on behalf of the Maasai, said that Mr Ruto, who represented the Kipsigis, had no business as his constituency lay far away from Mau.

The Narok South MP said the Mau issue should not be politicised, but Mr Ruto said it was sensitive and could spark ethnic tensions.

Earlier, various leaders had spoken of the importance of the Mau Forest to Kenyans and neighbouring countries.

Mr Odinga said the destruction of the forest was a national issue, adding that President Kibaki had rescheduled the inauguration of the Sondu-Miriu project after the water levels of a river emanating from the forest fell. He said the launch had been slated for Thursday and that even Japanese officials were already in the country for the event. Sondu-Miriu was built through Japanese funding.

Mr Odinga said it was time to act to stop further destruction of Mau Forest.