NAIROBI, July 21 – Prime Minister Raila Odinga Monday inaugurated a 21- member task force on the conservation of the Mau forest, which has been under serious threat of extinction.,
Raila gave the team a December deadline to come up with concrete actions of restoring the forest, which is one of the biggest water catchments areas.
He also directed the taskforce to come up with terms of reference for their work and present them for approval in two weeks.
“From today we want the taskforce to ensure the ongoing destruction is stopped immediately and we don’t want to see people cutting trees and using it for construction purposes and no more burning of charcoal,” the Prime Minister instructed.
The taskforce would also develop a time bound implementation plan for the five resolutions agreed upon in a high level consultative meeting on conservation of the Mau forest on Tuesday last week.
The resolutions which included eviction of people living in the forest without valid title deeds by October had received strong opposition from a section of Rift valley legislators who demanded the withdrawal of the same and engage in dialogue.
Other resolutions were the establishment of a joint enforcement structure to police the Mau forest, to explore other livelihood alternatives for the communities around the forests, to convene a donor consultative forum to mobilise resources for the conservation of the forest and to establish special magistrates to charge and prosecute offenders of illegal activities around the Mau forest complex.
However, Chepalungu legislator Isaac Ruto who was the first to oppose the adoption of the resolutions and argued for a negotiated programme of action to save the forest attended the Monday meeting and was in agreement with the resolutions.
The Prime Minister reiterated that all actions taken to conserve the Mau forest complex that included resettlements would be done in a humane manner.
“This taskforce will take immediate measures and they are also going to do an audit to tell us who is entitled for the compensation,” said the Prime Minister.
“We don’t want to encourage impunity because tomorrow you will find people encroaching Mt. Kenya, Cherangany hills, Aberdare’s, Mt. Elgon, all wanting to be compensated. The government does not have unlimited resources so really only genuine squatters are going to be dealt with.”
The steps to save the forest, which is estimated to contribute about Sh20 billion to the economy annually came under a backdrop of controversy of an eviction dispute with about 3,000 families living in the forest having sought court orders to stop an eviction threat by the Narok County Council.
“This is not just a Kenyan issue; it is a regional issue as well as an international issue. The forest is a source of various rivers that drain into Lake Victoria which is a major source of the river Nile. So the degradation of the environment on our part has got far reaching implications to the region in general.”
The Prime Minister added that after the conservation of Mau, the government would look into ways of protecting Chyulu hills, Mt. Marsabit, Mt. Elgon and other vital water catchments in the country.