NAIROBI, July 15 – The government Tuesday issued an October deadline for the eviction of people living in the Mau Forest without valid title deeds.,
The decree was issued after a day-long inter-ministerial meeting on the conservation of the Mau forest complex, chaired by Prime Minister Raila Odinga.
This would be enforced by an eight-ministry taskforce to be coordinated by the Prime Minister’s office, established as part of five key resolutions made.
"The function of the taskforce is to oversee the implementation of the decisions made. They will also be charged with boundary marking and fencing in the South West Mau and Maasai Mau following the Olentutu commission boundary, to resettle those who had purchased bona fide irregular titles," he said.
The high profile consultative meeting came under a backdrop of controversy facing the Mau forests 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.
Other resolutions made included the establishment of a joint enforcement structure to police the Mau forest, exploration of other livelihood alternatives for the communities around the forests, convening 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 there was a minor setback when Chepalungu legislator Isaac Ruto objected to the resolution and argued that area leaders were not adequately represented in the convergence.
He said that they had recommended further consultations with the leadership of the region.
"It appears that the resolutions were prepared before (the meeting). I don’t remember us mentioning some of the issues that were read out and I will not be party to that," Ruto complained.
Other partners argued that the October deadline was too near for the evictions and resettlement of those genuinely settled at the forest.
However, the Prime Minister sought to clarify that the resolutions were not cast in stone.
"I think there is a misconception here. We need to give some kind of guidelines on this particular issue because if we don’t do so then we will just continue the way we have continued in the past," the PM clarified.
He said the government would immediately embark on marking and securing boundaries for the Mau forest.
“We will soon strengthen the law enforcement capacity in the Mau forest to restore law and order, in particular to stop illegal logging and other illegal commercial activities. And those forest guards who are involved in collusion, take note.”
It is feared that if the current destruction of the Mau forest does not stop, it would heavily impact on the key sectors of the economy like agriculture and tourism.
“The ecological destruction is also a threat to our urban areas and to the livelihoods of millions of people in the Rift Valley and Western Kenya,” Odinga noted.
“The destruction of this vital natural asset, which is the largest of our five water towers and as large as Mt. Kenya and the Aberdares combined, would in fact deal a devastating blow to the country’s entire economy and people.”
The Sondu Miriu power plant installed at a cost of $244 million was also said to be under threat due to the continued destruction of the forest for short term economic gains.
“The president was due to inaugurate the power station on Thursday this week but it has had to be put off because of the low levels of water at the moment, as only one turbine is running at a time when delegations had come all the way from Japan for the launch. That is how serious the situation is,” informed the PM.
On the other hand, Lands Minister James Orengo blamed the current situation on bad governance and impunity in the past.
“It is bad governance because even if we are talking about a new national land policy, it is not as if there were no other laws in the country,” he said.
Orengo stated that the fundamental issue was to resettle those who are genuinely in need of land.
“There are some professional squatters. They acquire land in one scheme and after a year they sell it and these professional squatters organise themselves as families,” he quipped.
The Minister suggested that they should be put under obligation not to sell the land for about 20 years, to determine if they were indeed genuine.
Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi cautioned against politicising the issue: “The day there will be no Mau forest, there will be nothing to politick about.”