of Acres of Forest Land in Private Hands
With many irregular land allocations already unearthed by the new
government, there are fears that thousands of acres of public
forest land could be in private hands.
Few of such
allocations were sanctioned by relevant authorities through
excision orders but many more are not reflected in official
government records. The land in question is suspected to have been
lost in a scheme in which some senior forest officers took
advantage of ministerial excision orders to hive off and sell huge
chunks of forest land to individuals and private developers.
The scheme, which
affected various forests in the country, saw thousands of acres of
land curved out in excess of the areas degazetted by the minister.
According to the
Forest Act (Cap 385), the Minister for Environment and Natural
Resources is required to formalise an excision order and its
details through a legal notice published in the Kenya Gazette. In
one such rip-off, Mau forest alone lost more than 50,000 acres in
2001. Former Environment and Natural Resources Minister Joseph
Kamotho said the order had been issued before he took over from
Francis Nyenze early last year.
"It is true
the government had authorised some portions, about 3,000 acres to
be excised for settling members of the Ogiek community. But
government officers took advantage and excised more than 50, 000
acres. The additional land ended up being allocated to individuals,"
said the former minister in an interview with this writer just
minutes before he was sacked.
meant that much more forest land was actually lost last year in
the controversial degazettement of 167,000 acres of forest land by
aerial survey conducted by the Kenya Forest Working Group soon
after Nyenze's order, captured expansive areas where trees had
been cleared much earlier. Apart from the crucial Mau Forest
located in Rift Valley Province, 12 other forests - Mount Kenya,
Aberdare, Marmanet, Kapsaret, Tinderet, Nabkoi, Nakuru, Molo,
Londiani and Nandi - were affected.
government remained adamant in spite of the pressure mounted to
have the order withdrawn by local and international environmental
Two separate cases
to recover the 167 acres are pending in court. The first suit,
lodged by the Kenya Alliance of Resident Associations, East
African Wildlife Society, Environmental Liaison Centre and the Law
Society of Kenya, secured a High Court judge's temporary order
stopping the excisions in April last year.
A second suit filed on similar grounds by the Green Belt Movement,
the Forest Action Network, the National Council of Churches of
Kenya and the Kenya Human Rights Commission is also yet to be
During the intense debate on the government action, renowned
environmentalist and Co-ordinator of the Green Belt Movement Prof
Wangari Maathai had come out as one of the strongest voices
against the excisions.
But Prof Maathai,
currently an Assistant Minister for Environment, Natural Resources
and Wildlife in the new government, is yet to revisit the issue.
with environmental experts that loopholes in the current national
forest policy is largely responsible for Kenya's shrinking forest
cover. The Forest Act confers on the Minister for Environment and
Natural Resources arbitrary powers to excise or degazette chunks
of public forest land for various purposes, including human
settlement and urban development.
But in the recent
past, say environmental lobbyists, the real motives behind
excisions have been to grab and dish out public land to
politically-connected individuals. The situation is made worse by
the fact that the minister's decisions are not subject to any
strict vetting procedure by Parliament or other independent
In the interview on
the eve of the World Summit for Sustainable Development held in
South Africa in August last year, Kamotho said such loopholes had
been exploited in the past to order for unwarranted excisions.
"The problem is that most decisions have been made
haphazardly," he said. In a sharp contradiction with his
predecessor's position that the excisions were done to settle
landless Kenyans, he dismissed them as not "absolutely
necessary". Prof Maathai's Green Belt Movement unearthed
another plot in which government officers would deliberately
settle "squatters" on forest land to facilitate grabbing
by individuals. The practice was common in Aberdare and other
forests in Central Provice. Without consulting the Ministry of
Lands and Settlement to confirm their status, a group of people
would be moved in from unknown areas to establish temporary
residential structures in the forest.
But new "owners"
would arrive in the company of surveyors with beacons to demarcate
the land. Meanwhile the "squatters" would be either
evicted or relocated to another section of the forest to prepare
the way for other grabbers. In Kieni and Getare forests, there are
reports of commercial transactions involving forest officers and
Some of the
squatters in the forests are displaced families who lost their
land in the infamous 1992 tribal clashes in the Rift Valley. Under
the shamba system, the government initially settled them there on
the understanding that they would clear parts of the forest for
farming purposes and in turn replant trees. The terms entailed a
small fee paid to the Forest Department for maintenance. Entries
on receipts obtained from some squatters in Kieni indicated that
it cost Sh400 to rent a parcel of land. Grazing levies ranged
between Sh15 for each small livestock and Sh40 for cattle or
independent investigations by the Green Belt Movement showed that
government officers were selling each parcel for more than
Sh3,000. The organisation linked a District Officer to the
business and demanded disciplinary action against him. The shamba
or Tongya system, which ideally seeks to involve landless
communities in forest conservation, has been steeped in
controversy in Kenya for a long time now. Before it was recently
re-introduced under strange circumstances, the government banned
the practice from public forests.
Besides being open
to abuse, critics blame it on the replacement of indigenous tree
species with exotic ones. The most common exotic species planted
in public forests include eucalyptus and cypress - which
researchers say reduce the water catchment qualities of the
forests. Furthermore, the more artificial ecosystems have
intefered with their once rich biodiversity. The new Environment,
Natural Resources and Wildlife Minister, Dr Newton Kulundu, began
a crackdown on corrupt forest officers immediately he took over in
January this year.
solutions to the problem, say environmentalists, lie in a
comprehensive forest policy to protect the natural resources. The
new Forest Bill, currently pending in Parliament, has been
repeatedly hailed as a good piece of legislation. It denies the
Minister, for instance, powers to issue unilateral excision orders.
Wide consultations beginning from the District Environmental
Committe to Parliament provide a sufficient vetting mechanism
against unnecessary excisions.
The East African Standard
(Nairobi), March 10, 2003