Archive 2002


Monday, January 14, 2002 

Kenya's Plot to Legalise Forest Excisions


LAST YEAR'S controversial degazettement of 167,000 acres of forest land in Kenya was meant to regularise the excisions of forests that had been going on in the country for the past two decades.

The validation was meant to leave the beneficiaries in the clear ahead of the enactment of a forest law that will require further excisions to be approved by parliament. Legalisation is also important since a new government is likely to take over after President Daniel arap Moi's term ends at the end of this year.

The list of the beneficiaries reads like who-is-who in the Kenya government. Documents made available to The EastAfrican from the Forest Department show that in 1988, a high-ranking politician was allocated 2,300 acres of Transmara, a largely indigenous forest in the Rift Valley province, for farming. 

Overall, 146 excisions covering 355,680 acres of forest land that benefited individuals, organisations and communities are shown to have been effected by September 2000.

"Many of these allocations were not officially ratified," said Mr Michael Wairagu, a consultant in environment and resource planning. "Part of the excised land had been initially hived off under the now moribund Nyayo Tea Zones project." 

The excisions were authorised either by the Commissioner of Lands or the Minister for Environment and Natural Resources after being initiated by the Chief Conservator of Forests or the Permanent Secretaries in the Ministries of Lands and Settlement or Environment. 

In February last year, the government published its intention to excise 167,000 hectares from 14 forests ostensibly for settling squatters, but the documents show that the process had started far much earlier. In 1999, for instance, the Ministry of Lands and Settlement had initiated the subdivision of 87,000 acres of eastern and southwestern Mau forests into 18,722 plots.

The intention was to form 14 settlement schemes for the Ogiek/Dorobo communities. Eventually, the resettlement programme encroached on 106,000 acres of indigenous and plantation forests for unexplained reasons. 

Beneficiaries of the many excisions listed include schools, churches, individuals like politicians, ministers and other top government officials. 

For instance, the documents say that the March 1999 excision of 86 acres of the indigenous south Nandi Forest near Kobujoi market in Nandi district was requested by a top paramilitary police unit boss for settling people "displaced by the new Kapkolei Girls Secondary School." Excision documents were issued in August 2000 after the requisite approvals. 

In some instances, the Forest Department could not establish on whose authority the excisions were made. A Kiambu politician is reported to have cleared 59 acres of trees in the Kiambu Forest for growing flowers. 

From the documents, it is clear that the controversy surrounding the excision of the Onturiri Forest in Meru Central district last year arose from a government order to resettle 1,154 families from the high altitude Nyayo Settlement Scheme to the 1,980 acres of the Onturiri Forest Station on the lower slopes of Mount Kenya. 

The squatters, assisted by Prof Wangari Maathai's Green Belt Movement, petitioned the government's decision to relocate them from an area they had lived in for 16 years. The matter is now in court. 

The documents also details how Karura Forest in Nairobi has been losing its greenery over time. The allocation of the forest was at the centre of violent clashes between the police and environmental activists in January 1999 which resulted in the burning down of heavy construction equipment on the site. 

From the documents, Karura initially lost 64 acres of natural forest in 1982 when a 99-year lease was granted to Tumaini School that did not take off. Later, the land was divided into small parcels and allocated to individuals, including an army major and a former police commissioner. 

Seven years later, 6.7 acres were allocated to a Cabinet Minister. In 1994, a construction company associated with the daughter of a top politician was allocated 44 acres of land. However, no legal notice has been issued because the excision is being contested by unnamed parties.

Portions of Karura forest may also have been parcelled out to individuals following the expiry of a 1952 lease of 15 acres to the defunct Wanderers Cricket Club in 1993. Although the land was supposed to revert to the forestry department, it is shown to have been allocated to unamed beneficiaries.

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